Thursday, April 30, 2009

Having Faith

My weekly blog post is going a little gray this week. Maybe it is the fact that I am exhausted from a lot more workload than I am able to manage at home and at work, or maybe I am getting a virus, at any rate, I want to say some things that are on my mind. Maybe they are on yours, too.

Having faith in our abilities. Why is that so hard to do? Why do we doubt ourselves?

I went out and checked out some of my oldest posts on my personal blog at WRITING SPACE OLDEST POST and remembered where I was in my life at that time.

Then I recalled how I had gotten from there to here. It's amazing! Life is amazing when you break it down into its tiniest parts.

One thing often overlooked is the fact that we all have a talent (as writers) that is God-given and we are EXPECTED by the Almighty to use it. No matter whether our acceptance ratio is high or our rejection ratio is higher, we are supposed to do this thing that we do.

I would never have imagined in 2004 that I would be where I am today. Thank God I didn't quit writing! I wanted to! I really tried to. It just wouldn't go away.

Now look what's going on? I would have missed all this great stuff if I had thrown in the towel. I just posted my new cover for all the world to see
and as I look at it I marvel! I mean, this is my second piece of fiction to be published. I did this. Me. All I had to go with was my desire to do it, and a modicum of talent.

So. That's my post for this week.

Just be thankful, you guys, and use that gift you have. Even when it hurts. Even when it isn't working. You do not know what lies ahead, but I can promise you the journey no matter HOW arduous, is worth it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


In the past few weeks, we’ve had great articles on Murder By 4, such as this week’s feature by Chester Campbell on subplots and Aaron Lazar’s “The End.” I’ve read posts about inspiration, writers as poets, and S. W. Vaughn gave us permission to just write crap! I was pretty certain each post was written specifically for me. And then I read the recent interview with Stephen King published in Writer’s Digest Magazine. When asked how his writing evolved over time. His response was:

“I think it’s important to keep on pushing the envelope ... I haven’t evolved as a writer by consciously trying to evolve; I just keep writing and hoping to find good new stories.”

Writer’s block, stress, distractions—call it what you like, it hit me hard and all of these pieces forced me to stop and think about where I’m at in my writing. I’m well past “the block” now but to be honest, it was never a case of not knowing what to write, what this next book in my Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series is about, or how it will end. But rather, the mechanics and the best way to go about producing this new story.

For me, the journey has been nothing short of amazing. Words used to fly from my thoughts to my fingertips to the keyboard then onto the monitor without any thought to what I wrote, much less how it would affect future writings. A few years ago, I didn’t know where I was going with it and so I wrote [crap] until I hit upon something that finally worked for me, my Harper series.

Today my writing is more deliberate. It has to be. Readers have expectations of what they’ll find between the pages of my books. One of the things I enjoy most about this series is developing complex plots and seeing how long I can go without “giving the story away.” I think of the subplots as short stories that get braided into the main plot. In real life what we do and say has a cause and effect. In fiction, multiple plots do the same, they give stories substance and depth. Often, subplots also involve multiple characters and some interesting bits of dialogue.

After the release of THE DEVIL CAN WAIT I received countless e-mails from readers making me acutely aware (and touched) that some of them had favorite characters and definite opinions about what those characters should or shouldn’t do. Further, the characters in my books have been the focus of lively discussions at several of my talks. Unfortunately, not all of the characters will make it into each book. The questions is, which should I include or exclude? Do I write for this reader and not the other? Several have mentioned that they like the relationship between Sam Harper and his father, Walt. Will there be a role for Walt in book three? What about Harper’s partner Dave Mann or his budding romance with Jennie? These and other character will make an appearance if their involvement advances the plot.

There’s still much work to be done, but in the end, I think it’ll be a good read and hope it will meet with my readers' expectations. Until then ...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Awesome Things About Living in the Country

This post is for all you city dwellers thinking about setting a story out in the sticks. If you think life is boring out here ... well, you may be right, but sometimes, interesting things happen. Sure, we don't have nightclubs or fancy restaurants (seriously, our most upscale eating establishment is a place called Daddy Ed's) - but we've got all sorts of fun.

So, here are some awesome things about country living you probably didn't know!

* If you wake up one morning and no longer have any running water, you don't have to call your landlord or a service expert and wait for them to fix it for you. All you need is a big shovel, a little shovel, knee-high wading boots, a good pair of rubber gloves, and a few hours to walk out to the well in the back forty and dig out all the silt and mud that's gunked up in there due to spring runoff.

* Traffic jams are less likely to be caused by actual traffic than by the occasional horse or cow that wanders out onto the road, and proceeds to stand there knowing that it's a hell of a lot bigger than your compact car and can totally take you out.

* When your nephew leaves his cell phone at the laundromat, you can not realize it, drive half an hour to the nearest cradle of civilization where they have a Walmart to satisfy those shopping needs you just can't fulfill in town, panic when you realize he's lost his phone, and drive all the way back, and the nice lady at the gas station next door will still be holding on to the phone for him.

* Being lonely is difficult when you can't walk into any business establishment in town without running into at least four people you know, who want to catch you up on everything you might have missed, therefore ultimately making you take forty-five minutes to pick up a gallon of milk and a newspaper.**

** No matter what you need, and how short your list is, you will always have to make at least two stops in town - and possibly as many as four - to get everything, because there is no such thing as one-stop shopping here. It's a law: country time must be three to five times slower than city time. If we had everything in one place, things might get convenient, and we can't have folks moving fast around here. It'll scare the neighbors.

* Your neighbor definitely owns a gun. You will realize this when the weather gets decent, and he starts firing it at random times throughout the day for no apparent reason. You will have no idea what he's shooting at, but you can rest assured in the knowledge that it's not you. You're too far away for good accuracy.

* Unless you also live in the area, do not ask us for directions. We will give you landmarks that are vague, impossible to recognize, or no longer exist, such as "turn left at the corner where Russell's Garage used to be, then take a right where they cut that big tree down after the blizzard of '93." Get a map. It will be your best friend.

Thus ends my review of country living. It's great out here. Really. Does anyone out there live close to a Walmart - and are you looking for a roommate?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Using Subplots in Mysteries

© Chester Campbell 2009 all rights reserved

Subplots can give new dimension to a mystery by deepening characterization through actions that don’t immediately effect the main plot and providing background to characters and situations. Though they serve an important purpose, I found it odd that the two writing books I keep handy barely mention them.

Good old Wikipedia gives this definition:

“A subplot, sometimes referred to as a ‘B story’ or a ‘C story’ and so on, is a secondary plot strand that is auxiliary to the main plot. Subplots may connect to main plots, in either time and place or in thematic significance. Subplots often involve supporting characters, those besides the protagonist or antagonist.”

Subplots are about contrast and not just a rehashing of actions or events taking place in the main plot, or the “A” plot as some call it. There can be several subplots going on at the same time. One could involve a relationship between the main character and a secondary character. Another might deal with a situation that does not appear related to the main story at first.

One writer divides subplots into two types: Those that run parallel and don't really affect each other, and those that are dramatically hinged together. I’m not sure the first type works too well in a mystery, where everything that happens needs to be linked in some fashion. In the ideal situation, subplots should end at the same time or just before the main plot. The resolution of one should set up the resolution of the other.

My new PI Sid Chance mystery, The Surest Poison, is a good example of how subplots affect the main story. The central plot involves Sid’s efforts to locate the people responsible for dumping a toxic chemical behind a small plant a dozen years ago. There are two primary subplots. One helps build the relationship between Sid and Jaz LeMieux, his female associate, through solving a problem with her housekeeper’s grandson. The other concerns a poker club whose members include a homicide detective, a patrol sergeant, a former Criminal Court judge, a retired crime reporter, Jaz, and Sid. They provide help with the case.

Though subplots are interconnected with the main plot, their impact appears indirect until the end of the story.

The main character’s relationship with someone of the opposite sex is a familiar subplot in mysteries. In his Reacher books, Lee Child always has an interior story involving a sexy female, either a fellow investigator or a damsel in distress.

Crafting a subplot is as simple as writing a smaller piece that takes place simultaneously with the main story. It embellishes an idea or a character in a new way and impacts the novel’s resolution. One writer says more than three subplots can distract the reader and muddle the story. So best not to get too carried away with them. Too many subplots might spoil the mysterious broth.

Today’s visit is part of Chester Campbell’s Blog Book Tour. He will give away several copies of his books in drawings at the end of the tour on May 1. Leave a comment here and you may be a winner. For more details click this link ( to his website.

About the author:

Chester Campbell is the author of two mystery series featuring private investigators. The Surest Poison, first book in the Sid Chance series dealing with a chemical pollution case, is just out. He has written four Greg McKenzie novels featuring a retired Air Force investigator and his wife. Prior to turning to fiction writing, Campbell worked as a newspaper reporter, freelance writer, magazine editor, political speechwriter, advertising copywriter, public relations professional and association executive. An Air Force intelligence officer in the Korean War, he retired from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. Currently secretary of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and president of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Sisters in Crime, he lives in Madison , TN with his wife, Sarah, and an 11-year-old grandson.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"The End"

repost, copyright 2009, Aaron Lazar

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

Man or woman, romance or action writer, sensitive poet or straight shootin’ scene churner, it hits us one and all. It’s the moment we reach at the end of our long suffering days, those focused, driven, passionate hours, plastered with outpourings of words that evolved into our current work in process. The moment we type, “The End.”

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

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

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

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

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

Last night I experienced this sensation for the eleventh time. Yup. It was a nostalgic kind of sadness, a choking momentary paralysis reminiscent of stolen memories from my childhood or the loss of a loved one. I finished LADY BLUES, the ninth in the LeGarde mystery series.I admit I am obsessed. I hover over this parallel universe like a frantic father, controlling and finagling events for Gus LeGarde and his family to navigate through until they scream for help.

Sometimes, I’m kind. And sometimes, I’m not.

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

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

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

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

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

I would spend no more evenings with Kip Sterling, the octogenarian who lost his memory on the night Glenn Miller mysteriously disappeared, the jazz era “music man,” shoveled from nursing home to nursing home for the past sixty years, with no family or real identity until Gus LeGarde befriended him and began to dig into his past.
Or Bella Dubois, Kip’s Nubian black lover who crooned bluesy tunes in Harlem between secret trysts with Kip, her beloved piano player. I had fallen hard for Bella, just as Kip did, and imagined wonderful blue smoke-filled nightclubs with her purring at the microphone in a slinky green dress that sparkled and shifted like surf on the beach. Never mind that I hate smoke and can’t stomach the stench of it, I suppressed that little bit of truth to imagine the romance of the era.

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

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

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

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

Or, do you immediately turn back to chapter one to polish the manuscript and look for inconsistencies before you send it out to your critique partners or inner circle of pre-readers?

Alternatively, do you put your manuscript aside for a year to let it simmer, while you blast through a few more novels?

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

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

Most importantly, whether or not you need a hiatus in which you reconnect to family or friends, be sure to return to writing as soon as possible. Whether it be an article, like this, or the start of your next best-seller, keep writing. Don’t ever stop. Give us more, and steam ahead to forge those new bonds that will hopefully return you to the tissues the next time you type, “The End.”
Note: While I'm on the hunt for a new day job, I'm going to occasionally repost some of my earlier columns. Thanks for your patience, my dear friends!


Read excerpts, reviews, readers comments, interviews, and more at Aaron Paul Lazar's websites:

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Listening to others talk about going to the RT convention this week has made me really sad that, once again, I am not going. I really love cons! There used to be one held in Memphis every year called “Duel on the Delta” which was sponsored by the local RWA group. Unfortunately, they could not afford to continue having it, and it sort of fell by the wayside.

That leaves exactly one other one locally, and it is a Sci Fi/ Fantasy con. I could have gone, but of course, that weekend I was with my family and so once again, no.

Which brings me to the purpose of my post.

How does one plan for and achieve “convention-attendee” status? What does one have to do to be able to go? If I have the time, I do not have the money, and if I have the money, I cannot get the time. I think it is just poor planning on my part. I will be very excited to hear our readers’ entire take on this subject.

Have you attended a writer’s con? Where? How did you manage to go? How did you afford it? What is one thing you remember about it and would like to share with us?

Marta and I briefly talked about having a mini-con one year. Maybe we will call it the Murder by 4 Mystery Con. At any rate, I need to brush up on convention going as I really do want to attend soon.

Here is a list of cons I have heard about, and it is not complete by any means.






Maybe I will see you at one!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Interview with author Joe Bright

I'm very pleased to introduce friend and fellow author, Joe Bright to our Murder By 4 readers and to have the opportunity to announce the April 18, 2009, release of his latest novel, THE BLACK GARDEN by BeWrite Books. This has been a much anticipated read so imagine how thrilled I was to received word this past weekend of the release.

Joe will be visiting Murder By 4 again in the next few weeks, but for now, let's meet, Joe Bright.

Joe, it’s a pleasure to have you as a guest today on Murder By 4. I know how excited you are to share the news about THE BLACK GARDEN with our readers so let's start by asking you to tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

My life has always revolved around the arts. When I was young, I used to draw constantly. I went to college on a fine arts scholarship and spent a few years on a dance team touring Canada and Europe. I also won a music showdown, playing the guitar and singing songs I’d written. Yet my biggest passion has always been writing. I wrote short stories while in high school and college, but never embarked on the daunting task of writing a novel until I’d graduated and moved to Hawaii.

I’ve been writing for fifteen years now and have written five novels. THE BLACK GARDEN is the first one to get picked up by a traditional publisher. Three of the others were published on audio cassette, but have since been discontinued. I also self-published two of them on my own, but have now discontinued those as well, since I’m rewriting them and plan to submit them to publishers once they’re finished.

Most of my stories fall within the gothic suspense category. THE BLACK GARDEN, however, is more of a drama/mystery. With its rural setting and dark theme, it still fits in the American Gothic genre, but without the supernatural elements that are often associated with the genre.

Why this book? What prompted you to write it and what do you hope your readers will get out of it?

One of the inspirations for THE BLACK GARDEN was a murder that took place in my hometown in Wyoming, when I was nineteen. I learned the details of the murder from my older brother’s best friend. He said the girl had been raped and strangled. She was eight-years-old.

A murder makes a large impact on a small town, mainly because it rarely happens there and because it tends to affect almost everyone. We know the victim. We know the killer. We know their families. When you come from a family of eight children, as I do, it increases the chances of there being a connection. In this case, the killer turned out to be my older brother’s best friend, the same one who had told us about the murder.

With the first suspect, I was willing to see the man hanged, even without seeing any of the evidence. When it turned out to be a friend of the family, I felt sick. I felt sorry for his family and for my brother. If he hadn’t confessed, I would have sworn they had the wrong guy. Why? Because I knew him and we often choose sides based on association rather than on the facts of the situation.

This murder is a very small part of THE BLACK GARDEN; however, the theme of judgment runs throughout the story. Who’s right, the Hatfields or McCoys? Depends if you’re a Hatfield or a McCoy. I hope the novel gives readers a different perspective on events, and entertains them at the same time.

Tell us a bit about your protagonist, Mitchell Sanders.

Mitchell is the outsider. He moves to the small town of Winter Haven for a summer job. He doesn’t care about his employers or the community. He’s a coward who has run away from his problems in Boston and then finds himself entrenched in even bigger problems. He’s not comfortable speaking his mind while in the company of people he knows will disagree with him. Yet as the conflict mounts, he’s forced to take a stand and to grow as a person.

The excerpt you have on your website,, certainly drew me in. Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, the setting, etc.

Mitchell Sanders takes a summer job in Winter Haven, helping the O’Briens fix up their house. He moves into the studio at the back of the black garden, a bizarre assortment of items now overrun with weeds. Soon, Mitchell realizes there is something very peculiar about his employers and discovers that not all of their skeletons are in the closet where they belong.

The story revolves around three characters: Mitchell, George, and Candice. Mitchell Sanders, the main protagonist, starts out naïve and detached but gradually grows more and more intrigued by his quirky employers, mainly George. All of us know someone like George O’Brien, a crotchety old man who has nothing good to say about anything. Yet, within his orneriness, you can’t help but be entertained by him and ultimately care about him. George’s granddaughter, Candice has led a sheltered life. Mitchell’s arrival provides her first real glimpse into the outer world. I chose Vermont for the setting mainly because when I visited there I was taken by its beauty and felt it would make a great backdrop for the story. The town of Winter Haven is fictitious; however, I drew a lot on my hometown of Evanston, Wyoming, when describing the layout.

How much and/or what kind of research went into writing this book?

Since THE BLACK GARDEN takes place in 1958, I had to do a lot of research about the era to make the setting authentic. I wanted to make sure the dialog didn’t contain slang or technical terms that didn’t exist at the time. I also needed to know how the police investigated a crime prior to the advent of DNA testing. Fortunately, one of my older brothers works in law enforcement, and I was able to pick his brain on procedures and protocol.

What do you find the most difficult part of writing and what do you do to overcome it?

The hardest part about writing is the blank page. I often say that writing is a lot like creating a sculpture out of clay. In the first draft, you are creating the clay. That’s the hard part. Molding it is the fun part. To help me through this process, I first write an outline, plotting out the story. Through this, I come up with my characters, establishing their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Once I know my characters, it’s much easier to know how they will react in a given situation. Often I’ll just write anything that comes to mind, just to get the writing going and to fill up that daunting blank page. I also tend to keep other novels around so I can pick one up and read a little to get me in the right frame of mind.

I know you work full time. How do you balance your time to make time for writing?
I’m a graphic designer during the day and a writer in the evenings. Thus, I’m at the computer all day long. The tragic part of that is that I have very little social life. I can be quite obsessive and have to force myself to take a break and go do something fun. In other words, I’m still trying to find that balance.

What impact would you say completing THE BLACK GARDEN has had on you personally and on your writing?

It’s such a great feeling of accomplishment to finish a novel. I also write songs, and I remember how proud I was when I wrote my first song, which took a few days. A novel, on the other hand, takes months or years. Thus, the feeling of pride is that much greater. The most rewarding part of it is having other people read and enjoy it. It’s a nice boost of confidence and encourages me to continue fine tuning my writing skills and to work on the next novel.

Who has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and ultimately supporting your attempt to get THE BLACK GARDEN published?

My parents and brothers and sisters have always encouraged me. It’s nice to have someone believe in you, even when you’re having trouble getting agents and publishers to read your work. I’m very fortunate to have such a supporting family.

With respect to your writing, please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?

The first novel I ever wrote, I took the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach. That is, I just delved in without really knowing where the story would take me. Many writers work that way and do a splendid job with it. Not me. I ended up doing a lot of editing that I could have avoided if I’d have thought things out better. Now I always outline. First, I write a brief synopsis of the story. Second, I figure out who my characters are. This often takes a month or more, because I really need to know who these people are so I can work with them. Third, I write an outline. My outlines include most of the dialogue and brief sketches of the action. Thus, they tend to be around a hundred pages long. Fourth, I start writing the novel. The novel never follows the outline completely, since I discover new things while writing and often encounter flaws that I’d overlooked before.

What are you working on now? What's next?

I’m doing a rewrite of my first novel, The Reflection. It’s a gothic suspense about a man who inherits an estate in England from someone he doesn’t know, and then discovers that he looks like the man who killed his benefactor. This is one of the novels that I self-published earlier. I’ve learned a lot since then and feel this new version is vastly superior to the last. I still have a few more months’ worth of work to go on it.

Any words of wisdom and advice to fledgling writers?

Never stop learning. There’s always more to learn about the art of writing that can help you perfect your novel. Besides reading novels and analyzing the authors’ techniques, it’s good to read books about writing, even if just to refresh your memory. I highly recommend Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, and The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. If I’d read these books years ago, I probably would have gotten published sooner.

About the author:
Joe Bright was raised in Wyoming and received his BA in English from Utah State University. Bright began his career as a technical writer for Thiokol, the manufacturer of space shuttle rocket boosters. He later taught English in Honolulu, Hawaii and Berkeley, California. He currently lives in Studio City , California , and works as a graphic designer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If All Poets Are Writers, Are All Writers Poets?

Good poetry is damned hard to write. And the hardest thing about poetry is its subjectivity. What is a brilliant poem to some may be a steaming, abysmal pile of dreck to others. This is true with all writing, but most especially with poetry.

What makes a good poem? There is no real answer. If you read a poem, and it moves you in some way - makes you laugh, or tear up, or float for a moment - then it's good for you. One of my favorite poems is Wallace Stephens' "The Emperor of Ice Cream" ... and I can name at least five people I know personally who find that poem absolute nonsense.

So, since poetry is so very subjective, can anyone write good poetry? I don't believe that's the case. There's something about the rhythm, the flow, the combination of words that has to be just right, and there isn't a lot of space in a poem to capture the feeling you want. But it's that struggle to find the perfect words that makes some poetry truly blaze with emotion.

I don't claim to be a poet. Like many writers I know, I went through a fanciful and deliciously angst-ridden time when I thought I could write brilliant, moving poetry. Fortunately, I realized my milieu lay in novels before it was too late. But I retain a great deal of respect and awe for those who write good poetry. Poets are among the most talented wordsmiths humanity has to offer, and there is no question they craft poems for the sheer love of language.

Occasionally, I continue to play with the idea of writing a poem here and there. Most of it is execrable rubbish fit to make Simon Cowell's head explode. But once in a while I still try to express myself in verse.

Here is the least offensive of my minimal poetic output. You may commence laughing now. :-)


She’s broken
Seven years bad luck
Each time I glimpse the shattered face
You did this,
She accuses me
I can't deny it
Can’t run from it
She follows me everywhere

She’s broken
And in her eyes I see volumes
That I have written…
I have to turn away
From the mirror
Lest she see me
Watching her
Being her,
Pretending that everything is

Monday, April 20, 2009

What Inspires You to Write?

When doing chats or author interviews, one of the first questions asked seems to be a variation of, What inspires you to write?

My short answer is one word: travel. My longer answer is that traveling/moving initially reinforced my love of reading. Born to rolling-stone parents who moved annually, my earliest playmates were fictional friends in books. Paperbacks became my portable pals. An only child, I began writing at the age of nine, learning the joy of creating my own happy endings – usually consisting of large families.

As an adult, writing has become my “second” job, where I squeeze in time between my day job and “life.” When I travel, however, I’m freed from my daily concerns. Everything is new. Not only does travel open my mind, travel triggers my muse. I admit it, I’m a peripatetic writer.

The inspiration for UNTIMELY PARTNERS was a trip my husband and I took to Teotihuacan, Mexico. Traveling always gives me ideas for stories. The locations spark ideas/plots/characters/conflicts. You could say that geography is the basis for my ideas.

For instance, a double rainbow that occurred on a walk in Teotihuacan was the inspiration for one of the opening images of UNTIMELY PARTNERS. A white dog that I met at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun actually became one of the central characters in the plot.

When my husband and I lived in Taiwan, political events occurring in the news and actual incidents that happened to me merged to become the inspiration for SOVEREIGNTY OF THE DRAGONS. Again, it was the geographical place, as well as the local flavor that inspired the story.

What’s my advice for inspiration for writing? Travel to an unfamiliar (or exotic) destination; be open-minded; experience all you can…just taste life…literally and figuratively! Add imagination, stir well, and serve up as a novel.

When doing chats or author interviews, another question asked seems to be a variation of, What are some promotional tips for other writers?

What works best for me is establishing working relationships with other authors in my area. Join local writing groups; speak at authors’ meetings, or give readings at local clubs, all the while quietly promoting your name, not just your latest title. Word-of-mouth and networking really do open doors, which lead to new speaking opportunities that ultimately help sales.

Karen Hulene Bartell

© Karen Hulene Bartell 2009 all rights reserved

UNTIMELY PARTNERS: published by Lyrical Press, Inc.

Contact me at my web site: I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Summer time and the living is easy

Seems like this week is the week for motivation.
And what I mean to say is, I need some. I need some inspiration, too. If any one has a motivation/inspiration store out there, um… could you send me a coupon?

I heard something on a v-log just the other day that sort of sums up my thinking processes. The writer said: If you want to be a writer, sit your butt in that chair and write. Don’t talk about writing, don’t say to everyone who will listen, hey, I am a writer. Don’t say that just because you’re a blogger in fifteen different places that the blogging is your writing. It just isn’t. No, you have to sit that booty in that chair and write. A lot. Over and over. Rinse and repeat.

Even when my house is a mess? Yes, Virginia. Even when my desk is a mess? Yes, Virginia. Even when my kids and my husband are clamoring for bacon flavored pasta salad from a box? Yesssss Virginia!

You have to finish that book! Edit it ! Slap it in an envelope and stamp it! Zip, zap, zowee! Do it today.

Because if you haven’t looked at the calendar… you only have a few more weeks and the kids will be home for the summer. We all know what that means! It means no longer will there be quiet bologna sandwiches in front of the laptop as you ponder why character sheets don’t have holes punched in them. That shall not happen until fall.

NO more contemplating cleaning the glass on your ship in a bottle. NO more planning how you will do three loads of laundry before you will open the Word Doc. No MORE! Now the kids will be home. Their cups and saucers lying about the living room on the sofa table. Their clothes pulled off and dropped at the bottom of the stairs.

You will feel a scream rolling to the top of your lungs and yet… you swallow it down.

“If only” comes to mind. “If only I had finished that book”. “If only I had sent it off”. If only will not work when summer rolls around. The kids will be there. If only is buried beneath dental visits, soccer games, and shopping for the hottest colors in shorts and flip-flops.

Do you want to be faced with that???? No, you do not. So, get thee over to thy writing cave and get busy.

**Disclaimer** Kim Smith no longer has to greet freshly scrubbed faces as they appear at her hip begging for the gruel that only she can provide. She has none of the aforementioned excuses for not writing. If she ever figures out what HER problem is, she will probably write a book about it so you won’t have to fear facing her dilemma.***

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Crossing the Line

© Marta Stephens, 2009 all rights reserved

I love to chat. What woman doesn’t, right? So ask me to speak about my books and I’m there—in heaven! But public speaking wasn’t always something I was happy to do.

Like most, the idea of standing in front of a group made my heart pound and my palms sweat. So much so that had the thought entered my mind in the early days of my writing experience, I probably would have suppressed the urge to write all together. In fact I can pin-point the exact cause of my dread—the oral book reports we were forced to do in school.

The interesting thing is that the need to write helped me get over my fear. How? Pure unbridled passion for creative writing. To some it may seem like an obsession, gloating, etc., but it really boils down to excitement and a wonderful sense of achievement. After all, writing wasn’t something I aspired to do. It was more like an unexpected curve ball that hit me between the eyes than a life-long dream.

Last January a dear friend of mine who teaches kindergarten invited me to speak to her teacher’s sorority group. Talk to a roomful of teachers? Mentally, I was immediately transported to my seventh grade class; shaking, sweaty hands clutching the podium. The notes for my oral book report scattered on the floor. Thirty sets of daggers staring, waiting for me to make a mistake. My heart, pounding so hard that words wouldn’t form in my mouth.

“Well? What do you say?” she asked.

“I’d love to!”

The evening was thoroughly enjoyable and went so well that it led to an invitation to speak to book club last night. A wonderful small group of women—more college professors who call themselves, “The Renegades.” Don’t you love it? Talk about a dynamic discussion.

The hostess had a wonderful spread of delectable wines and h’orderves.
Between the food, the comfortable seating area, and overall inviting ambiance of her home, the stage was set for a very enjoyable evening.

All the members came prepared. They had read SILENCED CRY—a copy in their hands and were ready to dig in and discuss the book from cover to cover. We talked about the characters, the relationships between characters, why they were sympathetic with some and not others. What motivated the guilty, what they thought about Sam Harper, Sam Harper, and more Sam Harper, and the plot twists that had kept them reading.

Then one person asked me an interesting question. “What line won’t you cross in your writing?” A heated discussion ensued about the topics and books each had read that crossed certain lines of comfort. Although I’m still technically working on a solid answer, I have to say that I write to entertain and when the writing is no longer entertaining it becomes troublesome. When that happens, it develops into something less than what I want for my readers.

What about you? What lines won’t you cross in your writing?

About the author:
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) Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

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

Visit Sam Harper at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Permission to Write Crap: Granted

Writers want their work to be the best it can be. This often poses a problem when it comes to maintaining good writing habits (which includes writing every day, or almost every day). No one is at their best every single day. Life and emotions intrude, and a writer caught unaware can find themselves churning out utter dreck in the name of getting words down on the page. So, if you're having one of those days, is it better to write crap - or nothing at all?

While no one method works for every writer, there are very few exceptions to the general rule that writing crap is better. It has been said, and rightly so, that great writing is not written - it's rewritten. For most writers, shitty first drafts are a way of life. To paraphrase Nora Roberts, one of the most prolific and talented writers of our time: you can fix bad writing, but you can't fix a blank page.

In my opinion, not writing anything when you aren't feeling your best is more harmful than churning out crap. It may be just me, but I feel lowest when I'm not producing anything at all. Even better, I can often start out writing utter dreck, and once my mood is slightly elevated by the appearance of actual new pages, I find that the quality of my words improves. It's the same principle behind the idea of faking happiness: act like you're happy, and eventually you actually will feel better.

So go ahead - write crap like it's going out of style. (And if you had any doubts that I'm actually stuck in the problem I'm describing, please note my use of cliche and hear me say UGH.) Now, I'm off to take my own advice.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Message from Aaron Lazar; and an Invitation to Host the Virtual Book Tour for MAZURKA

Hello, folks.

It's been so long since we've connected. I miss you all dreadfully. Unfortunately, it's been essential to focus my energy in other areas for a little while.

For those who don't know - I went on hiatus from Murderby4 when I was laid off from Kodak on January 30th, 2009 after 27 years of service, along with 1300 other employees.

The process has been much like recovering from a death in the family. Except this time it felt as if I was attending my own funeral. The shock, fear, grief, anger, and final acceptance felt familiar, too. Sort of like when my dad passed away, but of course not as severe, and the process was more accelerated than when one loses a loved one.

I may no longer be Aaron Lazar, the engineer who works at Kodak, but I'm alive. I'm not taking cancer treatments. I'm able to pursue my passions and play with my grandkids. And God willing, life will go on for a few more decades.

I must admit, however, that I've gone from the deepest despair to soaring heights of optimism - sometimes all in the same day. And I finally know how someone could feel so cornered, so helpless, so alone that they might consider taking their own life.

Of course I didn't. I wouldn't, for the sake of my loved ones. I couldn't, because I couldn't get past my own inherent passion for life and people. But for the first time in my life I actually knew what it felt to be momentarily touched by those feelings.

Pretty scary. Terrifying, actually.

Luckily it was just one moment of panic, and my dear wife came through for me. I told her how I felt, and she said, "You know, if you did that, I'd have to do it, too. I couldn't live without you, honey." The love that poured from her eyes filled my heart with relief and joy. If she loved me so much, nothing else mattered. I got past it, and never felt that way again.

It was so bizarre, because I've always been the one who "fixes" things. When my wife got MS, I stepped up to the plate and took over the jobs she no longer could do. It felt good to be able to help, to nurture our daughters, to dive in and be the rescuer, so to speak.

When my friend's daughter died, it was so horrible. But I was able to be there for him, to hold his hand at the funeral, to help him get through it. When my daughters reached their own crises in their lives, I was able to offer sanctuary for them, to guide them through their troubles, to help them get back on the path to success and health. But this was the first time I was the subject of such need. It was very odd and uncomfortable, and I didn't like it. Not one bit!

However, I'm delighted to say I've survived the whole ordeal and am currently feeling peaceful and optimistic. I've been dutifully doing my "homework" at the career search firm whom Kodak hired to help us through the process. The twelve study modules and associated classes are behind me. I've got a few recruiters on the lookout now. I've been to a few job fairs, and I'm networking like crazy. I know something wonderful will turn up. And meanwhile, while I'm working hard to find a new job, I'm also writing again.

It feels SO good to be working on The Aviary (my thirteenth book) after more than a month of writing nothing but cover letters! The stress relief is phenomenal, and of course being able to take charge of my parallel universe has great appeal, especially compared to the world where I can't control anything! LOL!

Best of all, this week my publisher contacted me about Mazurka's upcoming release. She's been cautious to release books in this economy, but Mazurka (and Healey's Cave) on on the release schedule for June and August now. I'm delighted, because they've been ready to go (cover art, back cover blurbs, etc.) for many months. I also received a copy of the ARC (advanced release copy) of Mazurka in pdf format. And I'd like to offer it to those of you who would like to host a Mazurka Virtual Book Tour in June.

Everyone who hosted Tremolo: cry of the loon is naturally welcome to do so again with Mazurka. And I'll certainly welcome new folks, as well.

The idea is to get the word out about this fourth book in the LeGarde Mystery series, in one of many possible ways:

-Book Review, posted on your blog, my blog, and/or book review sites.
-Interview with the author or any of the characters
-Essay written about the topics covered in the book with references to the story
-Radio Interview
-Or any other creative venture you'd like to pursue. For Tremolo, Bob E. ("Lady Bess" Elizabeth E. from published a piece written by her cat about Tremolo. It was superb! And others interviewed my characters Gus LeGarde or Siegfried Marggrander. The possibilities are limitless.

All I ask is that you read the book (in pdf format), and join the tour in June. You may pick your own day or week to feature it, and it may be on your own blog or anywhere else in cyberspace. Like I said, it's about getting the word out, plain and simple. ;o)

The print version will be available mid summer. Last year I sent print copies to everyone on the tour (over 30 people), which cost me a pretty penny. Since I'm laid off now, I have to do this a little more frugally! I hope you understand and don't hate reading ebooks. ;o) I always prefer to hold the book in my hand, but I know how much printer ink costs these days, too, so it's not trivial any more to just print it out.

Below is the synopsis of the book. Contact me at if you'd like to participate.

MAZURKA: A GUS LEGARDE MYSTERY (book four in the series)

Author: Aaron Paul Lazar

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

ISBN: pending

Publication Date: June 15th, 2009

Pages: 223

Price: $18.95

Publisher: Paladin Timeless Imprint of Twilight Times Books

When Siegfried receives a puzzling invitation to visit an ailing relative in Germany on the eve of Gus and Camille's wedding, their honeymoon plans change. Siegfried - Gus's socially challenged brother-in-law - can't travel alone, so they gather the gentle giant under their wings and fly to Paris.

After luscious hours in the city of lights, a twist of fate propels them into a deadly web of neo-Nazis. A bloody brawl on the Champs Élysées thrusts Siegfried and Gus into the news, where a flawed report casts Siegfried as the Nazi leader's murderer, sealing his death warrant.

While Siegfried recovers in a Parisian hospital, Nazi terrorists stalk Gus and Camille. Hunted and left for dead in the underground Parisian Catacombs among millions of Frenchmen's bones, they barely escape. Siegfried is moved to safety at his aunt's in Denkendorf, where he learns a shocking family secret about Chopin's steamy past.

The calm is soon shattered, when the threesome is plunged into a cat-and-mouse game where the stakes are lethal and the future of Europe hangs in the balance.


For those of you who love to write, remember to take pleasure in the little things and write like the wind!

- Aaron

To learn more, visit:

Friday, April 10, 2009

MURDER BY 4 Voted Writer's Digest 101 Best!

I just received the fantastic news today that our website, MURDER BY 4 has been selected as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest for 2009!

What an amazing year!!

I want to thank and acknowledge my co-bloggers Aaron Paul Lazar, Kim Smith, and S. W. Vaughn who helped launch MB4 with me in February 2008 and have made this site what it is--


I know I speak for all of us in expressing a deep appreciation to our readers, featured writers, and the virtual book tour companies who have helped us grow. Many thanks to those who have visited our site, offered comments, cross promoted with us and especially to those who voted for MURDER BY 4.

Cyber group hug to all!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My name is Kim

Just this week I had the privilege of speaking with Jodi Thomas, author of Rewriting Monday and Twisted Creek Jodi is a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 30 books and short story collections. I am a new fan, and of course “fiercely” devoted due to my writer-addiction. Call this post part of my multi-step program.

My name is Kim and I am a writer junkie.

Some people follow musicians (groupies) and some purchase art in monetary quantities that are astounding. Me? I hang on every word spoken or written by authors. Oh, and if they are handing out advice about how to be a better writer? I am REALLY listening.

I love being a groupie and art lover, too, (photography especially!) but that’s another post.

Does anyone out there feel me? The symptoms of this addiction are:
1. Reading every book by an author you absolutely love regardless as to whether it is a novel or a booklet on Ways to Train Your Parakeet,
2. Following them around the net, ie. friending them on Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter.
3. Surfing to find where they are going to have a reading, or be on an Internet site.

So, there you have it. My guilty pleasure is reading and following the authors that I love. It’s been such great fun to have the radio show so that I can find and love even more writers, too. It’s amazing how they will share their knowledge with others and since I am a writer also, with me. I love commiserating over plot holes and characters that won’t behave.

Jodi mentioned she visualizes her reader as she writes, and she tries to write just for them. As a reader, I appreciated that a lot. I also learned something about writing for an audience.

This is why I love MB4 so much. We can talk about our writing/reading addiction and everyone knows what we mean!

Kim Smith is the author of Avenging Angel, A Shannon Wallace Mystery, and the hostess for the radio show, Introducing WRITERS! at Blog Talk Radio.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

In Which We Become Award-Winning (And I Become Honest)

Many thanks to Jodi Lee, fantastic author and editor at LBF Books (and misguided soul :-), for this award:

It seems that by accepting the award, I'm now obligated to post the ensuing rules. Eep! Well, here goes . . .

The Award and Rules:

This award is bestowed upon a fellow blogger whose blog content or design is, in the giver’s opinion, brilliant.

Apparently the rules are as follows:

1. When accepting this auspicious award, you must write a post bragging about it, including the name of the misguided soul who thinks you deserve such acclaim, and link back to the said person so everyone knows she/he is real.

2. Choose a minimum of 5 blogs that you find brilliant in content or design. Or improvise by including bloggers who have no idea who you are because you don’t have five friends. Show the five random victims’ names and links and leave a harassing comment informing them that they were prized with Honest Weblog. Well, there’s no prize, but they can keep the nifty icon.

3. List at least ten (10) honest things about yourself. Then pass it on!

Honest Crap Blog Folks:

Joylene Nowell Butler and the Everday Bloggers: We've had the pleasure of hosting a few of these folks over here, and they always have interesting things to say. Joylene is also a great pal and a hard-working writer.

Sheila Deeth: is currently a quarter-finalist in the ABNA (Amazon Breakout Novel Award). Go Sheila!

Sia McKye: An articulate and all-around cool person who interviews writers over coffee. Mmmm, coffee. :-)

Janet Reid: One hella awesome blogging agent - funny, dedicated, and an inspiration to writers simply because her love for them and her job is so obvious. Ms. Reid also runs Query Shark, where she helps writers hone their query letters for submission.

J. A. Konrath: Living proof that self-promotion works, Joe is a multi-published novelist who runs a blog dedicating to helping newbie writers learn the art of pushing oneself without feeling (too much) like a loud-mouthed braggart.

And now for the fun part . . .

Ten Honest Things About Me

Oh, good heavens. Ten?! Can I just do five and repeat them? No? Sigh. All right, here goes . . .

1. Some people bite their fingernails. I bite the first knuckle of my left hand. It's getting a bit ragged, so I've started chewing on the right one lately.

2. I enjoy the musical stylings of the Backstreet Boys. There. I said it.

3. If I could have one super-power, I'd choose teleportation because that would mean I wouldn't need a stupid car. I hate cars.

4. Sometimes I don't wear socks (I'm not wearing any at the moment). When I do, they almost never match.

5. I don't shower every single day. Gasp. Someone call the hygiene police.

6. At least once a month, I wish I was a man. Ladies . . . you know what time that is. :)

7. Sometimes I cry because the world is such a wonderful, miraculous place - and we're screwing it up so badly.

8. I really do love my sisters and my brother. But don't tell them that.

9. My chewing gum loses its flavor on the bedpost overnight.

10. The only person I lie to regularly is myself.

There - I survived. Whew! Honesty is hard work. I'm going to get some chocolate now. You all have a wonderful day.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Is All Writing REALLY Autobiographical?

© Bonnie Kozek 2009 all rights reserved

When I meet someone who has read my hardboiled noir crime thriller, THRESHOLD, I usually get a funny look. Not funny-ha-ha. It’s more like funny in a knowing-wink-and-nod-concurrent-with-an-uncomfortable-nervous-giggle kind of way. When this occurs, I’m tempted to explain what I think is obvious: It’s fiction. But when temptation becomes manifest and I dost protest too much – well, you can guess the outcome. My protestation only serves to substantiate what the reader has already concluded. The sacrilegious, unhinged, haunted, and severely damaged protagonist – for whom no depth is too low to sink, and for whom no line is too sacred to cross – the enema-loving, most unlikely heroine of my book – she and I are one and the same.

Of course, it’s chimera. THRESHOLD is not autobiographical – nor is the second book in the Honey McGuinness series – JUST BEFORE THE DAWN. But knowing that the reader may be inclined to interpret my work in this manner, does, on occasion, give me pause. And when I’m given to pause, I begin to wonder. Does this style of writing shift some of the focus off the story and onto me? Or, put another way, are the cosmic concepts that spawn these books getting lost in the unconventional – the heretical – style of the noir genre?

Take THRESHOLD. The book was born of my desire to explore and answer a single question: How does the life of someone who believes – unwaveringly – in God alter the life of someone who, with equal determination, does not believe in God, and vice versa, if and when their lives become inextricably entangled? Now, it’s perfectly reasonable that a concept of such gravitas would be worked, exercised, and manipulated in a most particular way. Call it High Literature – literature written seriously, by serious writers, meant to be taken seriously. This type of writing would be inclined towards long sentences, composed of big multi-syllabic words – particularly those of the adjectival sort – wrapped in a reflective and problematic story rooted in the compound complexities of the human condition. However, as I contemplated this, I began to brood. Did I really have to write about this formidable notion in such an orthodox manner? Would it be unseemly to do otherwise? Did I even have a choice?

To answer these questions I battled two conflicting voices in my head, both passionate and hungry for dominance. One voice – allied with literary giants the likes of Tolstoy, Proust, Dostoevsky – argued eloquently and persuasively that indeed I did not have a choice. To properly plumb the depths and intricacies of such a lofty subject, I had to call upon my literary reserve of recognized seriousness and convention. The opposing voice – an heir to literary outlaws the likes of Artaud, Burroughs, Miller – argued raucously, and no less convincingly – employing a profusion of expletives for emphasis – that I could write about any concept I pleased in any (expletive deleted) style I pleased. Authentic truth, the voice argued, is often unearthed in the most unexpected places, and to reveal these truths in this manner requires an author to be willing to get her hands dirty.

And so, I began to weigh the opposing opinions. I was desperate to start writing, but no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t make up my mind about which course to take. Both positions were compelling and appealing. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before two opposing streams started to run in my mind – each with its own characters, plotlines, scenes and dialogue. Then, one night as I lay in bed stewing over the schizophrenic pandemonium inside my brain, waiting futilely for the now elusive good night’s sleep, the answer came to me.

A few years back I saw Sorcerer, a 1977 film directed by William Friedkin – a remake of the 1953 French film Le Salaire de la Peur (Wages of Fear). Briefly, the film is about four desperate criminals on the run from the law who are forced by misfortune to work in a remote oil drilling operation in a hellhole on the edge of a South American jungle. To get enough money to escape their circumstances, they transport a volatile cargo of nitro over miles of treacherous terrain in broken-down trucks. (One of the trucks – driven by the film’s star Roy Scheider – is called Sorcerer. Hence, the movie’s title.) What I remember about the film is this: From the first frame till the last I found the characters irredeemably unsympathetic. Friedkin hadn’t used any of the conventional manipulations of the medium to make me, the moviegoer, care one way or another about what happened to the characters. This was interesting. If I’m not invested in the characters, why watch the film? By the end of the film I had my answer. Unburdened by the traditional pulling of heartstrings, I was able to focus on the core concept of the story: Fate is mysterious: it strikes anyone, anytime, anyplace. Ergo, do we really have control over our own fates, either in birth or in death? Indeed, the film had wrestled with this far-reaching philosophical question without relying on the traditional treatment. And I had grasped this big idea in a way which may have eluded me if I had been emotionally bogged down in the usual manner. This realization was a breakthrough. Thus, I made my decision: I would get my hands dirty.

By the time the sun rose in the morning, I was already hard at work writing THRESHOLD. It’s monosyllabic and short of adjectives. Its protagonist hasn’t weathered the storm of life; she’s been chewed up and spit out by it. There is sex and drugs and murder. Yet obscured in this mixture of classic noir fiction and modern American pulp are characters and a narrative spawned from my desire to engage in and contend with the profound and fundamental idea of divinity in relationship to the individual human being.

Ultimately, if these big ideas succeed in penetrating through the tough-guy vernacular, I’m happy. And, if the cost of writing in this genre leads readers to believe I’ve personally been there and done that, well, that’s something I can live with. Writing, I believe, takes courage – the courage to buck convention and to uncensor the self. And even though honesty may not always be the best policy, I’ve got to admit something: There may be a grain of truth in the reader’s assumption. I mean, I wouldn’t say THRESHOLD is really auto-biographical. What I would say is that it’s …. well, let’s call it …. auto-biological.

* * *
About the author:
Bonnie Kozek’s novel, THRESHOLD, was published in 2008. It is the first book in her Honey McGuinness series. The second book in the series, JUST BEFORE THE DAWN, is scheduled for publication in 2009, followed by THE STORY OF WHY in 2010. Kozek has also written a book of poetry, MANIA, and several biographies for private publication through her company Legacy Publishing. She is a regular contributor of online articles about writing, as well as articles and opinions pieces in print media.

Kozek has had a varied and interesting career outside of the written word. She has collaborated on numerous projects with other artists, including Salvador Dali; worked as an editor on features and documentaries for both big and little screens in Hollywood and New York; and has written and directed shorts, including films for Saturday Night Live.

She worked at and attended California Institute of the Arts, and has taught in the graduate writing program at The New School. In addition she runs writing workshops at the not-for-profit multicultural human services agencies, FEGS and JCCA.

Her work has been recognized and honored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Kozek is married to Jacob Ween, an attorney for tenants’ rights. She has one son, Michael Kozek, and splits her time between New York City and Millbrook, a small town in upstate New York.

Learn more about her work at: or contact her at

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

More Stuff On Writing

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

Over the past few years, I've been interviewed several times (click here for the latest). I'm always amazed at the things I learn about my characters and my writing when I'm forced to answer questions I hadn't thought to ask myself.

After doing a few of these though, I can almost predict the questions. Nearly every interviewer wants to know where the inspiration to write came from and what prompted me to write this particular book. The answers to those two questions rarely change, but one question that has appeared on every interview is the one about words of advice I would give to an aspiring writer.

One thing I didn't think of when I wrote my first novel, "Silenced Cry" is reader expectation. Of course at the time there wasn't any. No one except for a small group of crit partners had ever read my work. But now that two books are published and both have gained a nice readership, there is far more pressure to make sure the third book meets readers' exectations. Will the writing draw him or her in? Is the plot interesting and the charcters believable? In other words, will readers who enjoyed "Silenced Cry" and "The Devil Can Wait" like the next book as well or will they be disappointed because by now, they've formed expectations and I better deliver.

I've spent the past several weeks working on book three in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, and inspite of knowing my voice and my characters, I began the writing process by reviewing key reference books with a focus on the skills I wanted to sharpen. I researched and wrote the usual back stories, developed the plot and subplots, and found it useful to read the chapters in the first two books that readers pointed out as thier favorites. So now that I'm in the thick of it, I decided to take a look at that list of tips to see what else I could add to it. Here's my latest:

1. Nothing worth doing is without sacrifice. Are you willing and ready?

2. Don’t skimp on reference books. Invest in several good ones. They’re the lifeline to good writing. Keep them next to your keyboard and use them often.

3. If you don’t know the answer, look it up. (Gads, I sound like a mom, huh?)

4. Don’t depend on others to teach you. Research the heck out of whatever it is you want to understand. It’ll sink in better and stick with you longer.

5. Never stop learning. It’s the key to keeping ideas fresh.

6. Know the mechanics of writing. Practice them until they become second nature to you.

7. Find your voice. It’s what will make you stand out from the crowd.

8. From beginning to end, the quality of the story depends on you. There are no magic wands, no shortcuts, or easy answers only hard work.

9. Love what you do and it won’t feel like drudgery. This is where #5 will come in handy.

10. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few selfless souls who will guide you along the way. Network, give back, and pay forward as much or more than you have received because you never know where the road will lead or who you’ll meet along the way.

11. The limelight is brief so remember your "please" and "thank you" (see #10).

12. Listen to the advice given by those whose works you admire, but be sure to give your inner voice equal time.

13. Falling in love with your words can stifle improvement.

14. When in doubt, cut it. Be ruthless with your edits (see # 13). Save the ideas behind the writing. What won’t work today, you might be able to tweak tomorrow and use someplace else.

15. Find a critique group that will offer constructive feedback. A fresh pair of eyes is critical to a polished read.

16. Learn to balance your activities and say “no” to the things that rob you of your writing time.

Okay, if you don't like any of those, how about: Success doesn’t fall from heaven—you make it. No one is going to hand you that publishing contract. You have to work for it and not just when the mood strikes you . . . and speaking of writing, I’m off to work on mine!

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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)