Saturday, January 31, 2009

Review of A Very Classy, Compelling Read

ISBN 978-0-557-02670-8

Reviewed by Marta Stephens, author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series

“Chronicles of the Undead” transports the reader into the realm of London vampires between the years of 1793 and 1826. Written in diary format, author A. F. Stewart masterfully reveals the quest of three generations of the Harrington family to record their interactions with the undead.

Samuel Harrington begins the diary entries on April 26, 1793, when new neighbors move in. Upon meeting Henri Forain and his cousin, Eleanor de Burgh, Samuel immediately strikes a friendship with Henri. Their relationship is forged by the number of common interests they share. It begins as an enjoyable encounter, but when Samuel discovers certain truths about his new friend, the situation takes a turn.

Samuel descends into a darker, far more sinister realm than he thought imaginable. Too enthralled by his new knowledge, he discards the things he has held dear throughout his life and begins a new evil existence. It isn’t long before Samuel pulls those he formally loved most into his menacing acts as unwilling victims.

Samuel’s son, Edmund and later Edmunds’ daughter Charlotte take up the quest to stop the evil that has destroyed their family.

Without one line of dialogue, and with an exquisite command of the written word, Stewart has created memorable, well-rounded, developed characters and has painted an intriguing and highly entertaining dark tale that kept this reader turning one page after another. “Chronicles of the Undead” is akin to “Interview with a Vampire” in its classy depiction of vampires and the twists and turns that influence the characters’ lives.

When the writing shines as is the case of A. F. Stewart, genre is never an issue. Whether you enjoy fantasy or not, “Chronicles of the Undead” is a must read and is guaranteed to hold the reader’s attention from the innocent beginning to its deadly end. I definitely look forward to more from author A. F. Stewart.

About the reviewer: Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)

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

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Motivate the Muse

This past Monday night, I hosted a free workshop called Jumpstart the Muse. It was a lot of fun, and I think the attendees got something out of it. I figured what the heck, might as well tell you all what happened.

First, I had them give me a list of why they were there to take the workshop, and most all of them had some reasons that we all face. They were: absent inspiration, boredom, creative dementia, and detail under-load. In other words, they didn’t have the inspiration to make the perspiration.

I really think this is a common problem with us writers today. We work at so many things, and we desperately want to write, but when we sit down to get to it, we either get another interruption, or we just stare at the white screen and get depressed.

My workshop was designed to give writers the GOOD NEWS that they are not helpless in this situation. We are the motivation BEHIND the inspiration! We, literally speaking, are the MUSE.

So, some of you will not believe me, right? You’ll say, oh no, without my creative side working, I cannot write a word. Well, try this exercise and see if you still think so.

1. Get yourself some index cards, of differing colors.
2. On each color, write a word at the top, whatever you so desire, I did this and I wrote “Sounds” “Smells” “Touches” “Sights” “Tastes”—now that means I had five colors, and each color would represent each of these items. Now you try it, but you do not have to do what I did. Try for other stuff, like, “Romance” “Mystery” “Suspense” “Anger” “Sadness” or any other you would like. You can cut out pictures of things and glue them on there and write about that picture if you would like. I posted a good one to start with on this post.
3. Now, that you have your collection of cards by color, start with one. Let’s assume you wrote “Anger” – now go out and think of a situation that made you so angry you could kill someone. Write that story on that card under ANGER. Did you feel the anger resurface? Reread what you wrote and be sure and make me, the reader, feel that anger just like you felt it. Did your face turn red? Did you cry? Make me mad!
4. Okay, now, do something like that for each of those cards. If you wrote “Mystery” at the top, you might just simply say “The day my car died was a mystery to everyone”. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it just has to tweak your thoughts for writing something,
5. Once you have your cards, and your “muse tweaker” titles, go for it! Keep a card file for all your little thoughts and big thoughts. You never know when this will turn out to be something to use in a book, or as an article piece.

Here's the thing... when you look at the snippets you have written, they make great first lines, don't they??

Oh yeah, and when you finish this exercise, try telling me you didn’t have anything to write!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review of "The Bait Shack"

Title: The Bait Shack
Author: Harry Hughes
Publisher: BeWrite Books (October 28, 2008)
ISBN-10: 190520292X
ISBN-13: 978-1905202928

Reviewed by Marta Stephens, author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series

The Bait Shack is an intriguingly entertaining and engaging murder mystery that demonstrates a vivid imaginative gift on the part of author, Harry Hughes. In his debut novel, Hughes expertly created a small but complex cast of characters whose quirky persona and relationship dynamics lend much to the novel's appeal.

Dale Cooles, a mathematician/number cruncher walks way from his university position to begin a new life with his bride, Lacy Chamblet. He is content to stay home, cook and clean for a change while Lacy goes to work for the property management firm of Meredith Holdings and its less than reputable owner, Henry Meredith.

Meredith is known for his unsavory business practices, his sleazy relationships, and his employ of undesirable characters to do his bidding. But Meredith’s life gets complicated when a key business deal doesn’t pan out and he hires an unsavory goon to collect unpaid rent on the properties. All this aside, living in a cottage situated behind one of Meredith’s old empty homes has its advantages for Dale and Lacy. That is, until they slip into the main house and find evidence that points to a few unsolved murders. Angers flair and egos collide but the pace never lets up until the very ending I didn’t see coming.

Hughes has crafted a solid read around a twisted tail that explores the dark side of the human soul and peppered it with his own brand of deliciously dry humor. The Bait Shack is a fast read that will easily hold the attention of any murder mystery buff. I definitely look forward to more from Harry Hughes.

* * *

Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)
SILENCED CRY (2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)
You'll find her here:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Write What You 'Know'

Beginning writers hear this all the time. It's possibly the worst piece of advice out there - but with one little word change, it could become the best advice.

Write what you love.

If you're a writer, chances are you're a reader. And if you're a reader, chances are there are certain themes you'll find recurring again and again in those novels you've read until the spines are cracked and the pages are dog-eared and there are unidentifiable stains on the covers and the edges from carting them everywhere while you're reading them for the forty-second time.

I'll go further, and say there's a good chance these certain themes you love are also present in your favorite movies or television shows. Themes that move you, fascinate you, make you laugh hysterically or weep uncontrollably when they're executed well.

Now, many writers discover a problem when they contemplate these themes they love: they've been done before. Obviously, since you've ran across them in so many stories. You conclude that they must have been done to death, and nothing you write on these themes can have any possible chance of success.

This is unequivocably not true.

You are the only one capable of writing the themes you love with your own unique voice, and your own opinions and life experiences coloring the story. Only your characters can handle these themes in the special way you see them and relate to them. Everything has been done -- but you have not done everything.

People fascinate me. This may seem like a very broad theme, but I've recently connected a few dots and realized there is a specific idea that's "been done" that I absolutely love: non-human entities that have suddenly become human, and get to experience all the pain and joy that comes with humanity for the first time, with a clean slate.

I can't seem to recall any books that use this theme (though I'm sure I've read several) - but I know stories. Joe Black. Short Circuit. At least two episodes of Star Trek. The idea of 'becoming' human excites and energizes the writer in me.

So I'm giving this theme some wings (HA - if only you knew!) and letting it fly. And for the first time in far too long, I'm excited about my work. Despite knowing this particular idea has been done, and these certain non-human entities have been used again and again, I'm writing yet another story. And I love it.

I'm writing what I love. Are you?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Write Like You Talk

copyright 2009, Aaron Paul Lazar

Have you ever heard the adage, "Write like you talk?"

I've run across this bit of advice off and on during my career, whether in writing skills articles, or from colleagues who had a "eureka!" moment of their own. One mentor said he didn't write one really good book until he actually put the advice into practice. And let me tell you, it worked. It really worked. Now I devour his mysteries.

"Writing like you talk," is another way to accomplish "pure" writing, to avoid those lengthy narratives, obscure referrences, or highbrow words that most folks don't recognize. Done right, it can be simple, yet profound. Imagine the kind of prose that flows without stuttering in your brain or tripping you up in the middle of an action scene, words that tell a story almost in an invisible way. It's likely that your favorite authors fall into this category.

Ever had the experience where you're reading a book and you keep noticing the actual writing? Okay, okay. I know most writers pay close attention to the writing in every book. But there are superb books whose stories flow so fast you can't stop turning the pages. They aren't always elegant, like Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series (those books make me weak in the knees, they're so beautifully crafted!), yet they propel you forward so the movie plays in your mind and you don't notice the words.

There are others, however, where you can't help but notice the writing, and not in a good way. Sometimes this is a result of writers who are just learning the craft, who are trying way too hard. And sometimes it's just plain old bad writing. These writers want to dazzle us with their vocabulary, their command of the language, or their brilliant analogies. Sometimes it's just too much. One of the first things I learned was to CUT, CUT, CUT. My early prose was filled with glorious adverbs and adjectives which described in no uncertain terms the visions I saw in my head. But they bogged down the story. After all that, after learning to hone and refine and smooth out the sentences, I'm STILL learning to cut the excess and just tell the damn story!

Of course, one must have balance. In literary mysteries, for example, there is room for a bit of poetry, or a scene described in such luscious terms it makes the reader salivate for a meal, or a dip in a lake, or a romantic moment with your character. (You wouldn't believe how many marriage proposals Gus LeGarde has had!)

Once you've learned to simplify the prose (Remember my resolution for 2009? Simplify!), then it's okay to spice it up -- judiciously -- so your own style can shine. Perfectly chosen verbs, sparing yet brilliant analogies, or dead-on-dialogue will help you carve your own niche in your genre.

I just finished a book that drove me to write about this topic. As I read, I heard the author's voice in my head. I recognized the natural style and lovely Southern accent, because I've heard her radio show and have chatted with her. And it worked, it really worked.

Here's the review I wrote for Kim Smith's Avenging Angel:

Title: Avenging Angel
Author: Kim Smith
Publisher: Red Rose Publishing
Publisher Addresses: Red Rose Publishing, 12065 Woodhull Rd., Forestport , NY 13338
ISBN number: 978-1-60435-276-4
Price: $5.99
Publisher website:

Avenging Angel
Review by Aaron Paul Lazar

A great read doesn't have to be fancy, full of literary allusions or deep musings. Nor does it need a ritzy setting, plots that twist your brain into a pretzel, or elite protagonists.

What a great read does need is a story that moves, characters who linger in your mind, and a voice that calls you back to its pages. Avenging Angel by Kim Smith accomplished all three.

Smith has written a suspenseful cozy mystery set in the south in a small lazy town. Shannon Wallace, a spunky, smart, and all-American young woman, is at the brink of disaster. Dumped by her beau, fired from her job, and plunged into the middle of a killer nightmare, Shannon's pluck and smarts carry her forward in a tidal wave of terror that will get your heart pumping in this delightful page turner.

When Shannon's boyfriend is murdered hours after he breaks up with her, she discovers their private video collection is missing. Problem is, the star of the intimate show is Shannon, and she'll do everything in her power to retrieve the embarrassing disks.

The author knows how to write. But best of all, she knows how to write like she talks. It's not easy to accomplish, as most debut authors tend to fall into the trap of using words that sound good but don't fit, or making a sentence far more complex than it needs to be. Smith's simple, straightforward, and quite endearing style is what drives Avenging Angel forward, with hints of colorful Southern dialect and engaging dialogue.

That said, there are select moments of literary prose that shine, as in the following excerpt:

"August in the Mid-South is like summer in the tropics. The crepe myrtles bloom in fuchsia and pink, and old people perch like lazy flies on white wicker swings and cane chairs. In every neighborhood, folded fans gently wave at the heat, and everyone talks about the weather. No one moves too much, or too fast, thanks to the humidity, which turns the still air into a sauna-like atmosphere even before daybreak. The firmest hair spray is reduced to damp stickiness, the best-laid plans are set-aside until evening, and the most even-tempered person will contemplate murdering their friend."

By contrast, take a look at this wonderfully simple, yet engaging, segment:

"My dreams were a mish mash of colors and snippets from my life. I saw myself as a child, orphaned. I relived the pain that accompanied it until it nearly drowned me and woke with tears on my face. The birds of summer played somewhere outside the window and all the sounds of nature seemed intensified as though reassuring me I was still alive."

As much as I enjoyed the plot line-straightforward, tense, great suspense-it was the relationships between Shannon, Dwayne, Salvatore, her elderly aunts, and the broad cast of suspects that sold me.

I was most pleased that Shannon didn't fall into the arms of the handsome local detective, because that would have made the work too predictable, trite, or Lifetime Movie-ish. No, Shannon held her own, wasn't pushed around by the cops, and survived numerous attacks by a very frightening assailant. This woman-while she does show very real emotions that ring true-won't be bullied by anyone. And when Dwayne helps her buy and learn to use a handgun, it may be the key to her survival.

Smith, "a true blue southern gal who was raised on black-eyed peas and cornbread," promises sequels to her captivating world. See more at her website,


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in 2009 from Twilight Times Books.

Double Forté is the founding book of the LeGarde Mystery series and was released in November, 2004. Upstaged followed in October, 2005. His third, Tremolo: cry of the loon, was released via Twilight Times Books in November 2007.

What's next? Healey's Cave, the first book of his green marble paranormal mystery series, Moore Mysteries, will be released in 2009.

He is a regular columnist for FMAM (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine), and has been published in Great Mystery and Suspense magazine and the Absolute Write Newsletter. Contact him at:, visit his blog at,,, or stop by his websites at and

Mr. Lazar is currently working on his fourteenth book, Don't Let the Wind Catch You.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Active and Passive Voice

I don’t know about you, but one of the most often talked about parts of writing that new authors flub is active versus passive voice. Well, let me correct that, the most misunderstood parts of writing are active versus passive voice. Using passive is second. After I explain passive voice, maybe you will be able to find it in your own writing.

How do you know when you are using passive voice? Most often the clue is hidden in the sentence under the guise of “be” words such as am, is, was, or were. You should be careful and examine the clues however, because these passive critters are tricky.

What characterizes a passive sentence? Oh, that’s easy. If you have kids, you will get this. You know how kids often will say, “Not me!” Well, passive voice is the same as a guilty kid. Something or someone is not stepping up and taking responsibility!

Example: The trash was taken out by Tom.
Well, heckfire, why doesn’t Tom just stroll up at that point and own up to his action?

The active version : Tom took the trash out.

Again: Books will be sold by Kim at the workshop.
Ha! How come Kim doesn’t sell ‘em herself?

Active: Kim will sell books at the workshop.

See? Easy once you think about it.

Not to say that passive voice doesn’t have a place in writing. It really does, and it is widely used in science and science-related materials. Usually if your sentence sounds weak and boring, you may have the passive voice issue going on.

Passive means idle, not being used much.

Now, just so you know, I have not been a passive writer. I have been very active! I have signed two contracts this week and you, my dear reader and friend, will be seeing my name on two pieces of fiction over the next six to eight months. Ahem. There is a catch. These two items are ROMANCE. Yes, yes, I know. What is a Murder by 4 contributor doing writing romance? Well, you see, that’s the beauty of fiction. You can make a mysterious romance and you can make a romantic mystery.

I will let you be the judge, but just know that A WILL TO LOVE and LOVE WALTZES are signed, sealed, and delivered. I will keep you posted as time goes along.

Kim is the author of the Shannon Wallace Mysteries. You can get your copy at

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Relax And Be Yourself

Since the November 2008, release of the latest in the Sam Harper Crime Mysteries, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, I’ve focused more attention at doing local talks and book signings. My first speaking engagement was at a library back in October. When it comes to public speaking, I’m no different than most. Although my heart doesn’t pound and my palms stay dry these days, it’s still not my favorite thing to do. But, I was determined to get through that talk one way or another. I spend several days, outlining my thoughts, typing my notes, highlighting sections in my books I wanted to read, and trying to memorize my lines. All this in an attempt to come across as “perfectly natural.”

On the day of the gathering, all eyes were on me and I quickly discovered that no amount of planning or rehearsing was going to save me. Worried that I’d forget to say a key word or phrase stressed me to the point that at times, I drew a blank in mid sentence. Yes, readers say I’m capable of crafting complex plots and creating well-developed characters, but I couldn’t remember a simple outline.

A few minutes into the talk I tossed out my notes and started to tell my story from the heart. Smiles eased across the faces before me, heads began to nod and questions started to pop up. Clearly, those people weren’t there for a speech, they just wanted to talk. They wanted to know who I was, why I had chosen to write, and how this middle-aged woman from Indiana had managed to “do it.”

Recently, an elementary school teacher friend of mine invited me to speak with her sorority group. When I called to confirm things, she said she was very excited and was looking forward to my speech. She gasped when I told her I didn’t have anything planned.

“But, but—” she said.

I assured her that everything would be fine, that I would say a few things about myself and my writing and then see what the group was most interested in. As it turned out, it was a great group of women and the evening was a huge success. I love meeting people and doing what is most natural to me; talking about my books and the Sam Harper character. But more important, in the eyes of those present, I was as real as the person sitting next to them. I was approachable; just another woman in the group who happened to be a published author. It was wonderful!

What I hope writers will take from this is that no one knows your journey or your writing better than you. Whether you’re doing a local talk or chatting online, the most important thing you can do is to be yourself, connect with your readers and have fun, because there’s nothing more contagious than that.

PS: Check out what one of my co-murderers from MB4, S. W. Vaughn created for me:

* * *

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, January 20, 2009

Look Over There! Something Shiny!

I’d like to start this post with a brief excerpt from the beginning of a new project of mine. Bear with me; I promise this is leading somewhere.


Logan Frost looked hard at her partner. She drew a gasping breath beneath the constriction of the bulletproof vest, and a single tear snaked down her smudged cheek. "Get out of here," she whispered. "You have to bring him down. All those people—" A fit of coughs swallowed her words.

Her partner knelt in the rubble beside her. "I won’t leave you, Logan."

In the wings, someone giggled. Logan groaned aloud.

"Damn it, Jack!" She sat up fast and pushed him away. "It’s Lizzie. The name you’re looking for is Lizzie."

Jack Rollins blinked a few times. "Isn’t that what I said?"

The look of comic surprise on his face shattered her anger. She laughed, and the crew around them finally realized the take was shot. Again.


Misdirection. It’s a wonderful tool for a writer when used correctly--but it can be a disaster if it’s mishandled. One common problem beginning writers have is the tendency to draw out misdirection, such as a dream sequence, for too long. This type of mistake loses points with readers and editors.

Hopefully you realized that the scene above takes place on a movie set, and the first few lines of dialogue are spoken by actors in a film. However, if I’d gone on for pages and pages--or even a few more paragraphs--without revealing this fact, you as a reader would have felt cheated. I would have been setting you up for a story that wasn’t actually happening. And if you were an editor, you would have already sent out that form rejection.

This is the trouble with starting a story in a dream, or a lie, or an unrelated prologue, or anything that is not the actual story. The reader builds expectations during those first few paragraphs or pages, and the "trick" of misdirection will backfire when expectations are shattered.

As with any 'rule' in writing, this one can be broken--but it’s important to understand the rule before you set out to break it. There are many ways to use misdirection effectively. Unreliable narrators, well-timed point of view shifts, and even emphasis on certain plot points that draw attention away from the clues are all good techniques, as long as you use them skillfully.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when you’re trying to 'fool' your readers is this: be subtle, especially in your big reveal. Readers are smart. They don’t need a hit in the head with a clue hammer to figure out the surprise. They will appreciate your twist far more if they’re allowed to get it themselves.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Looming Layoffs

copyright APLazar, 2009

I can’t help it.

My eyes sweep around the conference room, taking in engineers, technicians, and secretaries who sit at their tables and sip coffee, pretending to pay attention to the speaker. The topic on “Image Quality Trends in the Printing Industry” is interesting–to me, at least–but my mind won’t stay focused.

About fifty people are scattered in rows, facing forward toward the projection screen. Folks I’ve known and worked with for almost three decades.

I can’t stop the tide of questions that buzz my brain like a swarm of angry mud hornets.

Which of us will be gone in two weeks? To whom will I have to say goodbye? Maybe all of them, if I’m affected. Will they stare at me with expressions of sympathy when I burst out of the boss’s office with a big thick “involuntary termination” package?

How will I react if I’m cut?

Will I hold it in and smile and try to make my boss feel better? I know it has to be hell for him. He’s the epitome of a good family man and a great leader. This whole thing is killing him; you can see the pain in his eyes each time he speaks to us.

Or will I choke up and flee? God, I hope not. I pray I’m more of a man than that.

No matter what happens, it won’t be easy. We’ve suffered nineteen layoffs in the past twenty-seven years. I’ve sat at my desk, waiting for the axe to drop, waiting to find out which friends won’t be coming back, or if it will be me this time. Good friends. Real friends. Guys whose hands I’ve squeezed at their children’s funerals. Men whose wives had died of cancer. Babies have been born whose lives I’ve followed. Kids. Grandkids. Friends who’d had heart attacks and with whom I’d become exercise buddies to keep them safe. I even played matchmaker for the first and only time in my life to connect two wonderful folks who’d lost their spouses. And it worked. And they’re happy and together now. And then there are the pals who shared my love of writing. No more writing lunches with them, where we share our latest work or talk about writing skills or themes or characters.

Gone. Vanished. Poof.

I know they aren’t really gone. We can still see each other outside of work. We email. We try to stay in touch. But it’s hard. And often they need to move out of state for work.

I meet the eyes of someone across the room with the same thoughts dark in their eyes.

Will it be me this time?

I sip the last of my Tazo mint tea, hoping for one more swallow to ease the tightness in my throat. There’s only a drop left.

Will I survive? Will we lose our home, the place we’d settled and raised our kids and grandsons for over 23 years? And what about our expensive prescriptions? How will we afford them? Maybe we’ll end up moving in with my daughter. Squeezing all of our lives into one teensy tiny room.

I think about that for a while. It might not be so bad.

Spurts of nervous adrenaline course through me. I cast my eyes around the group again, counting by threes. Rumors of thirty percent cuts have been spreading, and the boss said he thought the rumors were pretty close. One two three. Cut. One two three. Cut. One two three. Me.

Discarded. Tossed to the wind, as if I hadn’t killed myself for this job. This job I’ve really loved for twenty-seven long years. This job that’s paid the bills, kept us warm, put a roof over our heads, and put my kids through college. When the grandkids needed extra winter boots and leggings, I could always squeeze just a little more out to provide for them. When my wife fell and broke numerous bones, I’ve been able to help her get healed. We could afford the health care, barely. The cost was shared by my employer, but it was cheap compared to most plans.

Another thought lurches through me.

Health care. Oh, God. What if I don’t find another job right away? There’s no way we could afford it if I don’t.

The newscasts are full of sad stories about people who can’t find work. “There are no jobs,” is repeated again and again in the hallways. The thoughts race through my mind, and I try to take a deep breath.

A voice inside me makes me take notice.

Stop it. Just stop it! You’re doing what you tell everyone NOT to do. Focus on what you have and stop panicking about something you don’t even know is going to happen, for God’s sake!

I force myself to relax and start taking my own advice.

I have a wife and family I adore, who love me back.

I’m able to stand and walk. I can breathe. I can think, love, cook, write, stand in the sun in my garden.

I’m not undergoing cancer treatments.

And I've been told that God doesn’t throw more at us than we can handle.

After the meeting, I counsel a friend who's slumped even deeper than me. I repeat all that the voice inside told me. Always the positive guy. Always the helper. Always looking at the glass half full. That’s me.


I speak softly to my friend. “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window. There are untold possibilities out there, opportunities you’ve never imagined. Just waiting for you. It could be wonderful!”

Now I just have to start believing it. There is life after Kodak, so I’m told. Maybe I’m about to find out.


Friday, January 16, 2009


copyright 2009, Pat Bertram

Murderby4 is pleased to welcome Pat Bertram for another guest post. Pat is a prolific blogger and author of More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which will be published later this year by Second Wind Publishing.
Performing artists like actors and comedians know that timing is everything. Without the right pause, the right word, the right gesture, the piece falls apart.
Life too is all about timing. Turn a corner and bump into a stranger who will become your mate. Run back into the house to answer the phone before you leave for work and later discover you missed being in an accident by those few minutes. Invest in a friend’s start-up business as a favor and end up being a millionaire.
Getting published is all about timing, too. You’ve written and rewritten your masterpiece, but you can find no takers. At best, you’re inundated with form rejection letters; at worst, you’re ignored. It’s entirely possible you are correct and your masterpiece is the bestseller-waiting-to-happen that you know it is. So how come you can’t get published?
Timing. As in the performing arts and the art of life, timing is everything, but unlike the performing arts, you cannot stand before a mirror and practice until you master your timing. All you can do is keep sending out your manuscript in the hopes that one day it will be on the right desk at the right time. Because one thing is certain, your desk is not the right one.
So how do you cope with all that rejection? Don’t think of it as rejection. Think of it as practicing your timing. Practice may not make perfect, but it does give you a chance.
a a
After all, Gone with the Wind was published after being rejected thirty-two times.


Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book -- character and story driven novels that can't be easily slotted into a genre -- she decided to write her own.

Bertram's first two novels, More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, are available for pre-order from Second Wind Publishing. Bertram's publisher says: “I was told by some other small publishers with whom I had done research that I was going to get mountains of unacceptable crap for every worthy thing I received. So when I got Pat's manuscript for A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which was like the first submission to Second Wind, I thought, ‘OMG, is this possible?!’ I knew in the first 20 pages that she was the real thing.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Teaser Thursday

If you are like many in the US today, you are focused on being bundled up and warm. If you are sitting home, wrapped in your blankie, here is something to do with that book you are nestled in with.

I took this idea from :
As the Pages Turn
Thanks to the bloggers at this site for a great idea!

· Grab your current read.
· Let the book fall open to a random page.
· Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
· You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
· Please avoid spoilers!

My two (2) “teaser” sentences for today:

From: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke

She was about to go to the keypad to activate the system when she had a brilliant dea. The moment she thought of it, she jumped up and rummaged through the closet for her camera.

This book has been very entertaining to read thus far. The author has a great command of the written word and makes you see, smell, hear, and feel everything going on in the scene. I guess I sort of feel like I can learn from this author, so I am truly enveloped in this book. It’s a little bit longer read, 412 pages, but some of those pages are recipes the author puts in for you since her series is all about baking cookies!

So get busy you guys! I wanna hear what you are reading, and what your “teasers” are.
Have FUN!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Time Seems So Abundant. So Where Does It Go?

Twenty-four hours a day. We each have the same increments of time to work with. Why then, do some people seem to get more done in that span of time than others? Organization, and I’ve struggled with coordinating my time and keeping distractions from zapping my energy and creativity for the past several months.

I’m a list maker by nature in part, because I can’t trust my memory much any more. Another reason for it is that I’m a visual person meaning, I have to “see” things. I make lists of everything from groceries, to tasks, to plot lines. In school, I couldn’t memorize anything unless took detailed notes in class then typed them out and read them over an over again. There have been studies done on the difference between visual and auditory memory. In essences it compares the difference between people whose brains are made up to recall visual images (the most common form of memory). These are the folks who when spoken to say, “I see what you’re saying,” as appose to people who can recall the spoke word. These folks will say, “I hear you.” Interesting huh? Maybe that’s why I can't remember quotes or names.

Okay, so back to time management.

In the past, so long as I had a list of things to do and stuck to it, I was fine. The thing is that after my books were published, my time was no longer mine. I could very well plan to write a chapter or two on a particular evening, but those plans could easily be changed if a reviewer decided to follow up with interview questions. Let’s see, free promotion vs. writing another chapter? That’s just one example, but multiply that break in schedule by the number of times I’ve opened and responded to e-mails or surfed the net and before I knew it, my evening had passed without getting any writing done. Time is free and in the early hours of the day it seems so abundant yet I’ve managed to fritter much of it away.

I’ve promised myself that I’ll do better this year. In fact, I’ve already taken a step toward doing more writing. As some of our readers may know, I’ve started a series of Sam Harper short stories that will be posted here Part I of “Dirty Little Secrets” was posted last Friday. Part II goes up on January 16. I hope you’ll stop by for a visit, leave Sam a comment, and follow the blog if you like it.

So wish me luck! You’ll find me at one of my blogs, my weekly posts here in Murder By 4 and a few select sites, but for the most part, I’ll be sitting at my desk, hands poised in the typing position and working on my third novel.

One final note, don’t forget today is the last day to vote on Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll. If you’re so inclined please go here and vote for two Murder By 4 authors’ books:

The Devil Can Wait” by Marta Stephens

“Avenging Angel” by Kim Smith

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 FestivalTop Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In the Stars?

Some people don't believe in destiny. For those who do, subjects like astrology and numerology tend to hold a certain degree of fascination. If you've ever taken stock in your daily horoscope, consulted anyone with "Madame" in their name, or filled out one of those "Are you and your lover compatible" surveys, this post is for you.

(Even if you haven't, read on, O skeptic one. My crystal ball says at least you'll crack a smile.)

Does the day you were born have any influence over you as a person? The idea might seem silly, but in my experience, most people have some trait or another that is in keeping with the general theme of their astrological sign. For example: I am a Libra, and Libras are said to be quiet people who are more interested in keeping the peace than voicing an opinion. That's me all over. In social situations, I've been known to purposefully and unobtrusively lose card games in order to prevent explosions from any hot-headed Capricorns that might be present. Hey, it's a living. :-)

Oddly enough, this general characterization by stars seems to hold across cultures. My birth year puts me under the Chinese zodiac sign of the Rabbit - again, a quiet sort of sign that doesn't like to cause waves, perhaps in the interests of staying under the radar of nearby Dragons.

What about other people? I recently found a website that lists famous people born on each day of the year, so you can see who shares your birthday. Here are a few that, like me, were born on October 21:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a noted poet
Ursula Le Guin, a well-known science fiction and fantasy novelist
Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize (and inventor of dynamite!)

My husband is a creative and intelligent person, an artist, and an amateur philosopher (in the sense that he's not professional; not in the sense that he sucks :-). His birthday, January 8, is shared by:

Elvis Presley (who needs no introduction)
Stephen Hawking (physicist, author, and general genius)
Baltasar Gracian (renowned philosopher)
Peter Arno (NYT cartoonist)

Coincidence? Who knows. But it sure is interesting.

Who shares your birthday? This website breaks it down by month and day. Feel free to share your famous birth mates in the comments - inquiring minds want to know!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Literary Therapy

Have you noticed a recent explosion in Internet radio shows? Perhaps you’ve heard of Blogtalk Radio, or other venues, in the past year. Basically, folks register as a talk show host and run their show via phones and the web. The guests call in, and listeners can either sign in or call in to join the discussion at the discretion of the host. The podcasts are available to download, feature on websites, or share via articles or email. The venue has become a wonderful marketing tool for writers and professionals in all fields. Over the past year, I’ve been a guest on several shows, ranging anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. Feel free to listen to some or all of them, if you are so inclined, here.

But in Dr. Niama Willam’s Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes radio show last week (“Dr. Ni” pronounced “nee”), I experienced a completely different type of interview.

It was more like “literary therapy.” Dr. Ni read and loved Tremolo: cry of the loon, brought up questions and issues about the characters, how they related to my life and passions, and spotlighted important aspects of the book linked to current day social issues.

She asked some hard questions that stopped me in my tracks.

But it’s not surprising, because the renowned Dr. Ni, literary scholar, author, creative coach, abuse survivor, and natural therapist, has just what it takes to help you dig into your life or novel, explore literary relationships to your life, and return you from the experience feeling enriched and satisfied.

None of it was planned. I didn’t even get the questions until a few minutes before the show. But that made the whole experience more animated, more natural. She surprised me by asking me to read segments of the book I’d never read aloud. I’m working on recording chapters for future audio books, but these chapters were further down the list and I hadn’t practiced. Sure, I made a few flubs, but the discussions we had about these scenes were illuminating.

The Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes program opens with Dr. Ni’s lyrical and mystical acapella singing, with a welcome that promises to “let your ears become intoxicated.” We laughed a lot, shared common experiences, and dug deep into important subjects.

Following are some of the topics we covered:

- The concept of innocence; how it relates to childhood and shapes a writer.
- How an author’s fears drive suspense and plot elements
- Abuse, and why it’s a recurring theme in the LeGarde series
- The lives of concentration camp survivor’s children
- Grandparenting vs. Parenting
- The “macho man” culture of some African American and Latino men and how it’s okay to be human, to be nurturing, to allow your emotions to show, while also being strong and protective.
- The history and future of Siegfried Marggrander, and where the German segments come from in the series.
- The differences between 50s/60s kids and some children today
- How playing outside and inventing games was/is so good for children
- Materialism and its destruction of the family and quality of some children
- The desensitization of society to violence, gore, sex.
- Nature and the importance of living with and in it, as opposed to living indoor in electronic cocoons.

I wanted to share this with you all for the sake of connecting on important issues, but also to provide some fodder for ideas for those of you who are established or budding writers. Whether you already have a book out there or are about to be published, don’t hesitate to take the plunge with live radio!

At first it’s a bit scary. After all, you are LIVE. But as you become accustomed to thinking on your feet, the fears lessen and it can be truly delightful.

The best way to prepare for radio is to do lots of print interviews first. You’ll collect your thoughts, have files of answers handy, and will be practiced in the art of thinking about your motivations, characters, synopses of books, etc. I must have done 25 to 30 print interviews before I “dared” go live on radio. But they helped immensely. I even practiced answering the most popular questions out loud, so my mouth actually said the things my mind intended.
You also need to be prepared to read “live.” Again, practice makes perfect. Before I record my clips for future audio books, I practice each chapter numerous times, until the sound of the voices and descriptions match what was in my head when I wrote the words. That’s hard to do at first, but after a while it again, becomes second nature.

If you have a laptop in the kitchen, or headphones at work, click on the link to the show above and let me know what you think about our discussion. We can keep it going here if you like.

Remember, dear friends, to take pleasure in the little things. And if you love to write, write like the wind!

- Aaron


Investigate LeGarde Mysteries at

Thursday, January 8, 2009


by Kim Smith

Most writers will agree that there is a period in their lives where they only ‘think' or ‘talk’ about writing. In reality, they are doing something that I call pre-writing. It is a short period of time for some writers, (a little longer for others), where they get all the things tidied up before they can actually sit down and begin writing a book.

For many, this period of time is very important in their whole process. The whole process may have a bunch of different parts, but it is in the initial time where the ideas are coming together, that prewriting phase, that I speak of as being so important in getting a book to come out of our heads and onto the page.

Here is a short list of things that can go into your prewriting time. See if you can add anything to this that is your very OWN item.

1. Reading is “FUN” damental. This old saying is still true today. If you wanna write, you gotta read. While in the prewriting stage, reading is not only a fun way to get the muse going, it is vital.

2. Think out characters and ideas. Keep a pre-book notebook with all your thoughts and ideas sketched out in living color.

3. Try out an outline. Sometimes in the pre-writing stage, it is a good idea to have a little road map to point the way.

4. Create a place to write. Give yourself a place all your own, even if it is just a corner of your laundry room. Allow yourself the privilege of going there and being alone to create.

5. Put yourself on a writing deadline. Self imposed deadlines and schedules are a great way of making yourself accountable to your writing.

6. Do your research. This is probably one of the more important parts of the pre-writing stage. No one wants to read a book filled with mistakes about simple things that can be learned from a local law enforcement department, or another easy to connect with business. Get the information you need to have that authentic voice.

7. Start out slow, and don’t rewrite anything until you finish the entire thought you are trying to put out on paper. Sometimes you can revise the idea until it no longer resembles what you set out to write. That is a bad thing. Set aside revisions and rewrites and edits until you finish a first draft.

I hope this has given some of the new or aspiring authors out there reason to realize that it is not necessary to jump straight into the actual writing of their books. Sometimes we have to ease into it. Sneak up on it, like

Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny. Be vewy vewy quiet…

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In My Corner of the World ...

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

I read a post this week in which the blogger wrote that she preferred to look at the new year as a continuation rather than an ending or a new beginning.

After thinking about it for a minute, I realized she was right. Everything I’ve done and each person I’ve met in the past year has help me in one way or another get to where I am today. Looking back, much of what happened in 2008, was forged in 2007. Likewise, the ideas for the projects I’ll be working on in 2009 are ideas that were triggered by the events of the previous year, mainly; the release of THE DEVIL CAN WAIT this past November.

So what’s up with me in 2009?

Some great news, exciting announcements and hopefully something of interest for readers.

First, I want to thank everyone who tossed in a vote for
THE DEVIL CAN WAIT book cover on
Erin Aislinn’s website. I’m thrilled to announce that it won November 2008 cover of the month. All the 2008 winners will be up for a vote in a few weeks for cover of the year on her site! As I understand it, Erin will have the instructions up soon. In the meantime, check out this month’s eligible covers and vote for a chance to win the winning cover’s e-book.

Second, for those interested with a spare minute or two, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT is now up for vote at the 2009 Preditors & Editors readers' poll in the mystery section. There are a lot of familiar author names and book titles listed. Be sure to read through all the categories and vote for your favorite read!

Third. The big announcement (I’m really excited about this one) is that I’ve launched a new blog called, SAM HARPER CRIME SCENE featuring none other than my protagonist, homicide detective Sam Harper. The inspiration for this blog came from readers and fans like the ones you're seeing here! Keep those e-mails coming, I love it!

In an attempt to do something different with this blog, I’ve developed a series of short Harper stories to post in segments that will continue for 3-4 weeks. Every few weeks I’ll post the beginning of a new story.

Part one of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS will be posted on Friday, January 9. At the end of the year, readers will be given the chance to vote for the story they'd like to see expanded into the next Sam Harper crime mystery novel and have one of the characters named after them. There's not much on the blog now, but stay with me!

The rest of my time will be dedicated to finishing the third book in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series, GRAVE WITNESS. While I’m working on it, I hope you’ll enjoy the Harper Shorts.

As always, I look forward to your comments!

Want to check out more pictures of nutty friends holding my book? Click here.

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)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Resolutions: Who Needs 'Em?

As I suspect was the case for a lot of folks, 2008 was not the best year for me. When the year finally drew to a close, the only resolution I'd made was not to make any stupid resolutions. It seemed pointless, futile. There was no hope.

Somewhere between New Years' Eve and today - which, if you live by the general business calendar, is actually the second day of the new year - I realized there are some things I want to change. I also realized that New Years is not the only appropriate time to make resolutions. Why should we be constricted by a dictatorial calendar? Any time is a fine time to move yourself closer to what you imagine your life could be.

Not all of the changes I'd like to make pertain to writing . . . except, in a roundabout way, everything does. I am a writer, after all, though sometimes I forget that fact when life throws a hurricane in my face.

So, with that in mind, here are a few Today Resolutions I'm making:

-I will say 'yes' more often when my son asks me to play a video game or watch cartoons with him, even if I think I should be cleaning or working. I will say 'yes' when he wants to talk about something, even if he brings it up when he's supposed to be going to bed (which is about the only time he wants to talk - but that's okay. Ten minutes of lost sleep won't kill either of us).

-I will listen more and argue less with my husband. Just because I'm comfortable in our relationship doesn't mean I should vent all of my frustrations on him and expect him to deal with it.

-I will not mope, scream, or rant about the publishing end of writing. I will remember that I write to exercise the voice that I can never seem to find any other way; to express my thoughts and observations, the truths I have learned in my life, in a way that I and hopefully others find interesting and entertaining. I write to create something. I will remember that fiction is not pointless just because it's made up.

-I will continue to paint my nails black, because I like black nail polish, and I will not let the opinions of others stop me from enjoying anything. I will also stop talking about some day getting something pierced besides my ears (no, not that!) and start putting aside a little money so I can actually do it.

-I will cut back on my caffeine intake, because people who care about me believe that drinking two pots of coffee per day is bad for me. I will not give up drinking coffee, since I love the taste of it; instead, I will learn to enjoy decaf.

-I will not censor myself so strongly in order to remain polite in company. If I feel like singing a dumb song out loud in public, I will. If I get upset about something, I will speak directly to the cause of my problem rather than complaining to others about it. I will run outside during a downpour and get soaking wet, just because. I will make more trips to the beach this summer, even if I am still fat and look terrible in a bathing suit, because I love being in the water.

That's about all my resolutions for today. Tomorrow, I might make some more. Do you have any Today Resolutions you'd like to make? Share them! :-)

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Hello friends and writers,
I always plan far too much when I'm dreaming about my eleven glorious days of Christmas vacation before it actually takes place. I envisioned finishing up the edits on Healey's Cave (I had 150 pages to go), writing a few chapters in my new book while sitting with my dog by the fire, playing with my grandsons in the snow, bringing up a month's worth of firewood to the porch, cleaning the house, cross country skiing, reading at least two books and writing reviews, rushing three chair seats, cooking wonderful meals, and maybe playing a little piano, which I hadn't done much for the past five years when my daughter lived downstairs with her little ones. I also planned a night of board games on New Year's Eve, which we usually do with several bottles of wine and the roaring fire in the background.

Balto, my trusty companion, who loves to sleep beside me while I write.

My prayers for snow were answered, but the birds weren't too happy with the two big storms we had.

The snow was so invasive, it even came INSIDE our mudroom walls through cracks in the door.

I guess I should have put that grill away last fall. Oops.

We finally managed to get outside and ski. Today we went to the Genesee Valley Greenway. Allison and six year old grandson Julian jogged/walked, and Melanie and I skied. The trail was packed down from snow mobiles, so it worked for both. Alli carried the camera, but at one point, Melanie borrowed it and took this wonderful shot of Alli's eyes:

You can even see the gold flecks in her pretty blue eyes. It reminds me of the photos we used to see on National Geographic.
I finished my manuscript (TA DA!), but found two glaring errors in it - I referred to Sam's little brother's eyes as BLUE in one spot, and they were distinctly hazel throughout the book. Plus I found a line where I reverted to my usual FIRST person POV instead of third person. How embarrassing! Thank God I decided to go over it one more time.
I ended up spending much more time with my grandkids than expected - my daughter and her fiance found out they both were working opposite shifts throughout New Year's eve week and day, so we had a house full of little ones for many days in a row, which is probably why I didn't exactly weave any rush seats this week. LOL! But I did manage to clean the house so that it looked nice for few folks who came by to visit.

Bella's six months old now and getting so big! She's maturing every day, and keeps us laughing.
Melanie provided lots of entertainment for the boys all week, home from Boston with her little dog, Toby. She brought her guitar, and for Christmas we fulfilled her dream of owning an African djembe drum - it's wonderful and provided hours of entertainment for the boys and us. We also got a collection of natural "shaker" type instruments to go with it and had our own little drum circle going on for hours at a time. With the drums and guitar, we sang songs like, "You've gotta sing when the Spirit says sing," "I've been working on the railroad," "Down by the Bay," "Amazing Grace," "Wade in the Water," "Shake Your Sillies Out," and many more. What fun!

Julian and Melanie

Melanie and Toby

Melanie and Bella

Toby in a regal pose
Melanie also provided amazing entertainment for us on New Year's Eve, with her guitar and djembe. We had such fun singing, dancing, and eating all kinds of yummy food. Alli documented almost all of our festivities with most of these photos, which is why you don't see her much. The boys played along on their guitars and some shaker instruments.

Allison, joining in with the music

Jules on djembe

Gordie really gets into the guitar. (Both boys insisted on shedding most of their clothes to dance and sing. It was hilarious.)

We had some wonderful food, most of which I cooked.
Of course it wasn't all hearts and flowers - it never is. My wife's illness abated for a few lovely days, but it's back in full force now. She's suffering, as usual. And I'm trying so hard to find ways to comfort her, God willing.
And when I tried to dust off my old Chopin Mazurkas, I found two of the keys on the piano were "dead." Oh, boy, I'm sure my grandfather is rolling his eyes in Heaven. That was his special "artist's" piano, and my little grandsons did a number on it when they moved in. But I'll get it fixed up after I save some money, and I'll start playing again soon. I have to, or Gus will be cross with me.
I do have one day left - and hope to get some writing done. We shall see.
My goal for next year is to SIMPLIFY where possible. If I want to stay in my pjs all day on a weekend, I will. If paper plates make life easier, so be it. If we buy Chinese or pizza once in a while instead of making a home cooked meal... I'm going to let it go. I need to simplify so I can squeeze more of the things I love into my life.
Think it's a good idea? ;o) Let me know, below.
Remember to take pleasure in the little things, friends. It's what helps me keep going sometimes. When you pass by a particularly gorgeous scene - whether it's snow flying off the roof of a venerable old barn, or footprints in the snow on an iced-over river, or a cluster of birds fluffing up their feathers to keep warm... keep those memories close so you can polish them up again, use them in your writing, or simply retrieve them from to provide comfort in times of need. It works, trust me.
Last of all, remember to write like the wind! And let me know how you're all doing with your writing, below.

Happy New Year,

- Aaron

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers

If you think MURDER BY 4 should be named to Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers list for 2009, please send an email to: with "101 Best Web sites" as the subject line.

MURDER BY 4 will soon be celebrating its first year of bring readers great guest blogs and informative articles. A mention in Writer's Digest would be great!

Happy New Year and ALL kinds of goodies!!

Where did the year go? I am with Marta on this one... it seems like the whole 365 days zipped past and I blinked. Maybe it is as they say, time moves faster the older you get! At any rate, I am going to be working very hard to enjoy and remember 2009. I hope you will as well. I wish you and yours a very prosperous New Year and the best of blessings for the days ahead.

Red Rose Publishing is having a half off day today so go out and buy some books! My book is now $3.00 so you will be able to download it for half of what you did in 2008!

And now for the BIG announcement! I am holding a Murder Mystery E-dinner! You can get on the guest list by sending me an email with "Murder Mystery E-Dinner" in the subject line. Once I have my guest list, I will begin sending out information about the gathering and the murder that is committed. It will be your job to figure out WHODUNNIT. The prizes are: 1. a $20.00 gift certificate to Amazon and 2. a mention on the radio show with free linkage to your website if you have one.

Get to cracking! mail to: pubd2b at yahoo dot com
Happy New Year Everyone!!