Sunday, August 30, 2009

When a writer's laptop goes kerplunk

Hello friends,

I had hoped to write a new episode in my "Paradise" series this week. But the vagaries of life intervened, as they often do.

When my Dell laptop crashed, I ordered my new MacBook Pro just in time to have it delivered before my trip to Boston to bring my daughter, Melanie, back to grad school and visit family in the area. Uh huh. You guessed it. The poor little laptop missed its Fed Ex connection in CHINA, and didn't make it. Actually, it arrived two hours after we left for our trip. So I've been without a laptop for about three weeks now.

The old Dell, which I had just spend many hundreds on to upgrade with a new hard drive and extra memory- decided not to take a charge anymore. After being told by two repair shops that it was too old to work on (six years old!), I looked up advice online, tried to open it up to find the supposed bad solder joint, and failed miserably. Sigh. So I made the psychological switch to Mac (after salivating over my daughter's Macbook and getting a few lessons on it) and waited with bated breath.

I haven't written anything in two weeks. It's killing me, the itch to write has been so pervasive I almost sent my beloved grandsons home early to free up the old Muse. Instead, in between making meals, doing dishes, keeping them in relatively clean clothes, and playing with them, I methodically transferred all my backed up files (from the old PC, which thank God keeps on kickin') to the new Mac, got my email working through their mail client, and just now finished transferring my 60 Gig plus photos and music onto the MacBook. There are a few glitches yet to work out, but I am a PC-to-Mac switcher, so I need to research it, or call the Mac center. I've been told they are wonderful for support, and we'll find out soon.

I hope you're all well and thriving. I'm still looking for a new "day job," and am really hoping the Man upstairs has something marvelous planned for me. Soon. Summer's almost over, and it's time to get back to work.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What is your writing routine?

Apparently I am not alone in needing a routine to crank out my work. In the seasonal aspect of things, I am more of a summer/fall writer than I am a winter/spring sort. That is because I love to sit outside and write. When the weather is pleasant, cool, and dry, I am at my utmost best. Not so when I have to write indoors because its just too cold or wet outside. And in the south, spring is nice, but usually pretty dang stormy. Hard to get anything done with the tornado sirens going off all around you.

What about you? Do you have a specific time to write? A specific place? What about a special hat you wear or notebook you use?

These are the things that signify to our creative muse that we are prepared to allow ideas to flow. The thing that troubles me most is, whenever I get in my place with my tools at hand, someone usually interrupts. I used to be able to pick up my train of thought and get back at it years ago. Not so much today.

We should always know when the best time for creating is as well. Are you a morning writer or an evening one? Does the television have to be on or off? Do you listen to music or does it have to be quiet?

The fun of crafting a story is something that we all will admit to being as addicted to. When the writing is going well, we feel on top of the world. That wonderful feeling is what leads us to sit down and write in the first place. It is also what gets us back there day after day during the creation phase.

I am going to repeat an earlier statement as well, and say that if you are having trouble getting words on the page, just go out of your normal place and get somewhere new and different with new and exciting sensory surroundings to tweak the muse.

That’s what I am going to do next week, when I once again fly off to my beloved mountains in NH and Vermont. Look forward to a fun pictorial of my adventures in days ahead. I hope you all have a wonderful week filled with lots of word counts!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Just Another Challenge In the Life of This Writer

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

I don't know who wrote this, but I love it and keep it handy to remind me that success is entirely up to me.

"Expect more than others think is possible. Dream more than others think is practical. Risk more than others think is safe."
Recently, I walked away from a long spell of trying to shove a square peg into a small circle (i.e., forcing myself to write a book that didn’t want to be written).

I’ve been writing fiction non-stop for nearly nine years so to find myself in a situation where I couldn’t write--wasn’t being creative, was the most frustrating, worrisome, and discouraging experience I’ve had. To make matters worse, after a while, I quit caring.

But the writing bug was still there and eventually, frustration turned to anger and that’s what usually hurls me into action. I'd had another book floating around in my head for a couple of years that I hadn't taken time to write it because I was so obsessed with getting this other Harper book finished. Finally I allowed myself to say, enough is enough. I put the Harper manuscript on the shelf and that … was the smartest thing I’ve done all year.

This new book will introduce the character of Rhonie Lude, PI. Aside from the obvious difference of changing my protagonist to a woman, I also switched my POV from third person limited to first. There are other differences between the characters. Sam Harper is a city homicide detective, Lude is private investigator which means her style of investigation is completely different from what I’ve been writing in the Sam Harper series. Another big switch is that this story takes place in Los Angeles in 1962. Although I lived there for a few years, I’m spending quite a bit of time not only researching basic information about crime investigation in the early sixties, but I’m also looking at historical information I can use to ground the story in that era.

So what’s this have to do with a quote about expectations, practicality and risk? Once I became a published author, I felt compelled to write on a schedule—one book after another (the pressure is all self-inflicted, BTW) and so for me to put the Harper book down to begin writing this new book was a risk. What if I spent months on it without being able to write it either? The Harper book was over 45,000 words, it had good chapters, strong characters, etc., etc., but I didn’t feel connected to it, if that makes any sense.

It was the risk, the challenge of developing a new character, that feeling of sitting on the edge of a cliff that started the creative juices flowing again like crazy. The first draft came in 50 days--broke my own record of 83 days with The Devil Can Wait. If I hadn’t quit trying to force my writing, I would have never written this Rhonie Lude book (yet to be named). The best part is that I thoroughly enjoy writing this tough lady PI and at last, writing is fun and exciting again!

* * *
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.
Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY AwardsTop 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

Join the Party and Win Free Stuff!

Who doesn't like free books? All this week, Lyrical Press is giving away lots of free books, goodie bags and other cool stuff - and all you have to do is leave a comment.

Visit the Lyrical Press blog for fun author interviews (there will be several posted every day through Friday) and leave a comment to be entered to win.

We're also having a big chat weekend. Pop in to the live chat with Lyrical authors on Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST, and with Lyrical editors on Sunday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST. I'll update this post with a link to the chat room soon. Winners will be announced during the chat. You don't have to attend to win, but we'd love to see you there!

(My interview will be posted on the blog today at 4 p.m. And I might reveal some interesting things about me there . . . :-)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Need to move a Plot Forward? Consider a Secondary Character

© Morgan Mandel 2009 all rights reserved
You’re writing a mystery, romance, or other kind of novel. You’re going full steam ahead, piling crisis upon crisis onto your hapless main characters. That’s what you’re supposed to do. You can’t make life easy for them or there’d be no story. So, your characters are boxed in and you can’t seem to get them out. They’re close to the breaking point. Unfortunately, so are you. It’s okay for the reader to wonder what will happen next, but when an author can’t figure it out, that could be a problem. What do you do?

One solution is to add a secondary character. This character will not play as large a role as the main characters, but could be just the catalyst your story needs to make things happen.

In KILLER CAREER, my two main characters are at the boiling point. They’re hurt and angry. No way do they want to spend time with each other. Enter a person in need, this time in the form of a classmate who was trying to get through the anniversary of his wife’s death at the hands of a drunken driver. They’re already committed to going to dinner with him and wouldn’t think of letting him down. At dinner, they can’t help but spill out their dissatisfaction with each other. He serves as a sounding board with an objective point of view. His presence diffuses their anger as they help him cope with his greater crisis. Also, he serves as a reminder to the heroine that no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Her resolve to follow her dream is strengthened.

Another kind of secondary character is a relative. It can be a parent, sibling, or other person with a family relationship to the main character, by blood or by choice. A real or imagined slight, disapproval or joy at the main character’s goals, an accident or illness making the relative dependent on the main character, or vice versa, all are ways to gain mileage out of family members in a novel.

Best friends or elders can also be used as secondary characters. They are the people the main characters come to for comfort and/or advice. Sometimes their sympathy highlights the severity of the situation. Other times, by seeking their advice the main character actually discovers a way out.

A secondary character can also be someone who sets a bad example. In KILLER CAREER, the father of the male lead deserted his family. Childhood bitterness over the loss of his father carries over into adulthood, making him vulnerable to fears of rejection.

I’ve let you in on a few examples of how I use secondary characters in KILLER CAREER. How do you do it? Or, maybe you hadn’t thought of doing so, but will now. Please share.

For a way to win a prize by commenting, please consult

Tomorrow, August 23, I’ll recap the tour so far at my daily blog,, and also provide the August 24 through August 30 schedule of my Guide to Self Publishing taking place at

About the author:

Morgan Mandel writes mysteries, romances, and even has a dog book in the works. Her latest release is the romantic suspense, Killer Career, about how a lawyer’s career change could be a killer when her mentor, a NY Times bestselling author, does more than write about murders. Morgan’s still available back list includes Girl of My Dreams, a romantic comedy about the misadventures of a reality show contestant, and Two Wrongs, a romantic suspense involving wrongful imprisonment.

Morgan is a past President of Chicago-North RWA, now serves as Library Liaison for MWMWA, and belongs to Sisters in Crime and EPIC. At one time she freelanced for the Daily Herald newspaper.

You’re invited to visit her website,, her daily blog ,, or any of her group blogs at,, and You’re also invited to join Morgan’s Ning site, at

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Dog’s Breakfast

© Linwood Barclay 2009 all rights reserved

My agent said it happens to every writer eventually.

I wrote a novel last year that didn’t work. To use a favorite phrase of my wife’s, it was “a dog’s breakfast.” I should have known. I wrote the first seventy pages three times. Shifted back and forth between first and third person. Couldn’t get a handle on it. A little voice in the back of my head had been telling me to abort.

It was like when you hear a funny noise coming from under the hood. You think maybe it will go away. You crank up the radio so you don’t have to listen to it. Next thing you know, three fire trucks are pumping water all over your ride.

That voice in my head was saying, “Pull over! For the love of God!”

I didn’t listen. I thought, keep going, get to the end, fix whatever’s wrong during the revisions. So that’s what I did, and by time I finally pulled over, the book was a write-off. Nothing really worked. It was fundamentally flawed. Reluctantly, I accepted my agent’s verdict that I could write another book from scratch in less time than it would take for me to fix everything that was wrong with this book.

I felt sick. This hadn’t happened to me before. While my six previous novels had needed varying degrees of work after the first draft, they’d all been in more or less good shape from the get go. I’d never faced the prospect of ditching an entire novel and starting over.
It was not a good feeling.

I didn’t know it then, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

At the time, I felt like stepping in front of a bus. I’d spent about four months on this book. I was contracted to deliver a new thriller before the end of the year. The clock was ticking. I did have an idea for another book – a missing daughter story, with a twist – but that was the one I was expecting to start next year.

I set aside five days to feel sorry for myself. My kids – now both in their twenties – have a word for a mopey friend. A “hurtsack.” That was me. A hurtsack.

But then I made myself get down to work. I took about ten days to make notes, then started writing. Something wonderful happened. I couldn’t write the thing fast enough. Those first seventy pages were a dream. Seven weeks later, I had the first draft of FEAR THE WORST. And not once during that time did I hear a voice saying, “Pull over!”

Believe me, I was listening for it.

FEAR THE WORST took another couple of write-throughs to get it into shape. The characters needed sharpening. A subplot was added. But that first draft felt pretty solid to me. Now that the book’s finally coming out, I feel better about it than any of my others. I think this book turned out well because the other one turned out so badly.

That first book wasn’t quite the failure I thought it was. It was my Apollo 13. It seemed like a disaster at the time, but it turned into a learning experience.

Here’s what that book taught me:

1. Listen to that voice. If it’s telling you the book isn’t working, stop. Regroup. Try to figure out what the problem is. How bad is it? Is it something that can be fixed? Do you have to start again? Would it be better to cut your losses and walk away?

2. Don’t be too proud to get some other opinions along the way. When I was working on that book, I didn’t want to show it to anyone until it was finished. Not my agent, not my editor, nobody. Looking back, I think this is because I knew, in my heart, that it was not working, and I didn’t want to hear that from anyone. But it’s better to get an early diagnosis so you can start treatment early. A lot of writers are too proud to take advice from agents or editors or friends. The only opinion they value is their own. That’s a mistake. You can get so close to your own work that you lose perspective.

3. Suck it up and move on. The time you spend sulking is time that could be spent writing. I spent more than thirty years in newspapers and writing to me is a job. The best job in the world, but still a job. If you had a contractor into your house to put on an addition, and the walls were all crooked and the windows fell out, you wouldn’t put up with him moping about for several weeks about all the time he’d spent doing a bad job. You’d expect him to tear down what he’d done and start over.

I suppose, when I say it took me seven weeks to write the first draft of FEAR THE WORST, that’s not true. I need to count all that time spent on the other book.

All well spent, as it turns out.

About the author:

Linwood Barclay is a former columnist for the Toronto Star. He is the author of several critically acclaimed novels, including Too Close to Home and No Time for Goodbye, a #1 bestseller in Britain. He lives near Toronto with his wife and has two grown children. His website is

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Drawing attention to yourself--or not

Okay, this one is for the ladies (I would be willing to bet!) but guys are welcome to read and smile.

There is a site I stumbled upon about Feng Shui Fashion. I am certainly no fashion diva, but this interested me because I am planning book signings for the future and am interested in whatever will be helpful. If you are planning this too, or maybe you are going to be on a panel at a conference, or a speaking engagement, this one will aid in how you select clothes for the occasion.

1. Wear red to attract attention to yourself. It is a well-known fact that wearing red is considered a power play. It says you are in charge and know your stuff.

2. Wear orange to promote unity, perhaps when on a panel and wishing people to understand that you are a team player. Don’t wear it when you wish to stand out from the others, however.

3. Wear yellow to bring clarity and brighten things up. It’s a sure fact that some people are tired and sleepy during long workshops, so yellow keeps things focused.

4. Wear green to exhibit intelligence as it is the color of growth and development. Great for workshops and teaching sessions

5. Wear blue to get people to become involved. It helps people stand up and speak their minds.

There are plenty of other colors listed if you are more interested in this Feng Shui approach to your apparel, and you can find it here:

And once again, you are smiling and saying, yes, this is why I love to visit Murder by 4. They have the darndest posts! *SMILE *

If finding out what to wear for such occasions wasn’t enough, I have solved another dilemma for you—tidbits to keep in mind when speaking publicly.
Sixty Public Speaking Tip-bits to keep you ahead of the speaking game

And if you find that you do have a few speaking arrangements, be sure and come back and tell us whether any of this * ahem * scientific methodology worked for you!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Trust Goes Too Far

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

I can name any number of everyday things that I double check for accuracy. I check my receipts to make sure the clerk rang up the sale items correctly. I get estimates for car repairs and check ingredient labels. I ask for references before hiring anyone to work on my home and check my pay stub. Recently, when I needed to buy a new lap top, I researched brands, shopped at several stores, and waited for the best deal before making the buy.

These things aside, however, I still feel that I’m a trusting person. If someone gives me their word, I trust they will follow through and when I’m dealing with a professional, I trust they know what they’re doing.

Here’s a “for instance.”

Last week, I saw my doctor for a skin irritation. After assuring me that was all it was, he prescribed an oral antibiotic I’d never taken before and an antibiotic cream. No biggie—I trust my doctor of 30 plus years with my eyes closed. After my appointment, I dropped off my prescription at our local pharmacy that I’ve used for nearly as long and went on to do a bit more shopping before picking the meds up on my way home.

The label on the medicine bottle said I’d received 20 capsules. I decided I should take one right away, opened the bottle, and immediately noticed something odd. All the pills were two-tone green but were obviously different sizes. When I dumped them out on the table, I discovered I had 16 of one kind of capsule and 36 of the other.

I immediately returned the prescription to the pharmacist who was mortified to learn of the mistake (In all fairness, there are several pharmacists and assistants who work there). She couldn’t apologize enough, and I wasn’t about to put her through the wringer. She was doing a fine job of it herself. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes. Granted, some can be more deadly than others, but…(fingers drumming on the table).

She immediately corrected the error and gave me a $20 gift certificate. She never mentioned what the other medication was for and although I appreciated her sincerity to correct the error, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had I received an entire bottle of the wrong medication—say for high blood pressure which I don’t have. In all honesty, I would have never questioned the content of the bottle. I’d never taken that medication before so how would I have known what I was getting? I would have blindly taken them like the good little patient I am and probably wouldn’t be here today to blog about it. From now on, think I'll start checking out my new meds here:

Okay, so when things like this happen, I always try to find a parallel to a lesson in writing. This little glitch reminded me of a question someone asked me recently (I’m paraphrasing here), “What mistake did you do with one of your books you wish you hadn’t.”

Oh heavens, that’s easy. Mine was again, the issue of trust.
Although the good certainly outweighs the bad, the one thing I regret most about my debut novel was having been so naïve during the editorial process. Silly girl that I am, I thought my job was done.

As some of you know (heck a few of you were among the first to critique it), I edited SILENCED CRY countless times. It was given a rigorous critique by seven other writers prior to my submission in the fall of 2006. After reading about other authors’ experiences with their editors, I expected to face major rewrites. Instead, my editor’s first reaction was that it was a good story and a clean manuscript. I was thrilled and as he and I worked on it over the course of several of weeks, I was certain if anything was wrong with the book, he’d find it. Instead, we zipped through the edits and when we were done, I stepped away from the manuscript for a week or so, before it was time to start on the final proofreading. Call it stress, nerves, or just getting hit over the head with a good dose of reality that my book was finally going to be published and people were going to judge me by it. When I read the first few pages, I panicked and wanted to cry.

The proofreading guidelines clearly stated, “No Major Changes.” I had several. The problem was I had relied completely on my editor to find mistakes and make corrections instead of taking on the responsibility myself. The clock was ticking and there I was, biting my nails and questioning every line I’d written, including excessive tags, redundant words and a few that were missing. By the time I finally decided to express my concerns, it was almost too late. To make a long story short, I was able to make the changes and in spite of my worries, SILENCED CRY received honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Fair.

It received great reviews and reader comments, but I’ll always feel that little pinch inside telling me it could have been better. I walked away from that experience with a bit more confidence in my skills and an understanding and appreciation for how things really work.

Drum roll, please...

My advice to writers who are about to experience their first time with an editor is—ask questions, it’s okay to ask for explanations of the things you don’t understand. Believe me, a true professional will appreciate your willingness to work with them. Don’t rely on someone else to make your writing shine. To do so could be as deadly to your writing career as not questioning your next prescription. If your agent or editor writes a blub you don’t agree with or you hate the cover, negotiate, offer suggestions, make your opinion count because if you don’t, once your baby goes to press, you’ll have to live with the good, the bad, and the really ugly of it.

I’ll never lose my trust of others, nor do I think I’ll ever forget the “what if” of my little pill fiasco. I’ll no doubt be more diligent about checking my medication in the future. As for all my books and manuscripts since SILENCED CRY, I’ve kept that first experience fresh in my mind. I’ve learned that no matter how great the editor, agent, or publisher is, the success of my writing begins and ends with me.

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 (2008, Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY AwardsTop 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, August 18, 2009

Life (and Death) Imitate Art

© Gerry Boyles 2009 all rights reserved

I was driving, and still the story on the radio made me shiver. A body had been found murdered in a shack on the bank of the Penobscot River in Bangor, Maine. The shack was frequented by homeless people. The body was that of a young woman. Her name was Holly. She was 19.

The story ended; I was almost home. I went to the Bangor Daily News online. I shivered again.

I wrote a mystery novel called Home Body, published in 2004. It was about street kids in Portland and Bangor, including a teenage girl named Tammy. She hung around the shelters, befriended a younger boy named Rocky. Tammy tried to warn Rocky about the perils of the street, including an older guy named Crow Man who preyed on the kids. Crow Man liked to drink down by the Penobscot River, under the Veterans’ Remembrance Bridge. I wrote a fight scene down there: Crow Man vs. Jack McMorrow, my series hero. McMorrow won that round. He couldn’t save Tammy. She was stabbed to death.

Back in real life, the murder victim this week was Holly Boutilier. She was from Old Town, near Bangor, was known to area places that serve the homeless, according to the newspaper. The paper published Holly’s photo from her Facebook page. She looks sweet, a little artsy, with dark-rimmed glasses and hair piled up on her head. Her obituary says she liked animals.

Cops arrested a guy they said was Holly’s killer. His name is Colin Koehler, not Crow Man. He’s 34. Cops had to tear-gas his apartment in Bangor to get him to give up. They questioned him for four hours before they charged him with murder. In his photo, he looks big, shaved head growing out. Resigned to his fate.

The reporters in Bangor did a good job. They went to the arrest scene. They went to the shack down by the bridge, where the body was found, and reported they saw discarded evidence tags and a spot of blood. The shack is filled with dirty blankets and clothes. A homeless woman reportedly lived there but she’s not around.

In coming days, the newspaper and TV news will report more about Holly and Koehler. They’ll tell us how their paths may have intersected. Were they acquaintances? Was it a crime of opportunity? How did she die? Who were her friends?

It will all come out, just as it does in the book. Reporters on the story. McMorrow pausing to ponder: “Nothing moved under the parking lot lights. Nothing showed against the glow of the city, across the harbor. The bridge lights glowed red in the sky like the lights of motionless airplanes. I watched for a few minutes, eyes narrowed, looking for some clue in the blackness, some reason for a girl’s life to end in this lonely way.”

* * *
About the author:
Gerry Boyle is a crime novelist best known for his acclaimed Jack McMorrow mystery series, featuring an ex-New York Times reporter transplanted to Maine. Boyle is a former reporter and columnist who spent nearly two decades covering Maine crime. He continues to write as a freelance journalist for magazines, and is editor of the alumni magazine at his alma mater, Colby College. Boyle lives in a lakeside village in Maine where he and his wife Mary have raised three children. This summer he is applying the last touches to DAMAGED GOODS, the ninth McMorrow novel, due out in February 2010. He reports that research for the second Brandon Blake mystery, is almost done.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Paradise, Part 2

copyright Aaron Paul Lazar, 2009

Last week I told you that I was "born to be home, tending grandkids, working the land, cooking meals from the garden, and writing 'til my heart squeezes the last words onto the page." I said that this life without a day job is the dream-come-true, the life I've yearned for every single day for the past few decades. It's my heaven on earth, my own private nirvana, my paradise.

I also mentioned that I was starting to get nervous. After applying for 35 jobs, I've had one interview (just heard the job isn't mine) and one rejection (never got an interview). No calls, no emails. No nothing! If I'm not careful, I'll start to think I must've deluded Kodak for 27 years because they consistently gave me nice promotions and always said they loved my work. I have to stop myself mid-thought, because that's a shaky place to tread for the sometimes frail ego of a mid-fifties white male in a time of few jobs and gazillions of overqualified applicants.

So, in order to squelch the nerves that are trying to break through and mess up my happy place, I've decided to write about all the wonderful things that happened because Kodak got rid of me.

Last time we discussed my new friend, Frank. G. In Part 2, I'd like to share the joy of having more time to spend with my granddaughter, Isabella.

There she is. The little angel with the curl in the middle of her forehead. This thirteen-month-old-child is too good to be true. But maybe that's because she had such a tough entrance into the world, fraught with an emergency C section, almost not making it, and spending a week in the NICU. This baby sleeps 12-13 hours straight every night, takes a two hour morning nap and a two hour afternoon nap. She wakes with sweet smiles and a rosy blush on her peaches and cream skin. Okay, so maybe there's a stinky diaper thrown in there occasionally. But although my daughters ranged from what I thought were "easy" to "difficult" babies, I never knew what easy was. This child makes caring for her a breeze. Which is a good thing, since I often have her for days at a time and while I'm pretty damned energetic, I don't have the unlimited reserves I had in my twenties and thirties.

Bella is so easy to please! Bella loves cow or soy milk, and will happily drink water or juice. She eats all the garden produce I put in front of her with gusto: green beans, fresh tomatoes, watermelon, kale, beets, potatoes, name it, she'll eat them with unabashed enthusiasm. When she's done, she lifts her arms high above her head and somehow communicates that it's over. It's not a whine, or a screech. Just two syllable baby words that sound like "all done." She chatters like a magpie, in her own language, but on occasion we've been certain she said, "Trot, trot!" (a game we play bouncing her on knees), "dog," (we have two who love her and her mom has three), "Hi," and "Peekaboo." She hasn't said them a lot, but it was a treat to hear them for the first time and not have to get a call at work to tell me about it. Being there first hand certainly has its advantages.
Isabella started walking a few months ago, and now runs from person to person and place to place. And man, is she smart. I'm not just saying that because I'm her grandpa, but darn it, this girl is bright! We have a toy camera that makes clicking sounds like a real shutter. It lights up and says, "Smile!" But it takes a lot of pressure to push in the button, and her teensy little fingers aren't strong enough. She quickly learned to take MY hand, grab one of my fingers, and push my finger on the button whenever she wanted the toy to do its thing! Now she does this all the time, and even holds her own little wrist to help give herself strength on the tougher jobs. It cracks me up. But then again, I'm easily amused. She's got me enchanted. ;o)

Bella had her very own first "garden tour" with Papa a few weeks back. We sampled blueberries, red and black raspberries, gooseberries, jostaberries, and cherry tomatoes. She lowered her little mouth to my outstretched hand and ate berries off it as if she were a pony taking a sugar cube from my hand. And she carried a cucumber around with her for hour after that, gnawing on it. It probably felt good to her little gums where more teeth are pushing through.

We had our very first cooking session together, something her big brothers Julian and Gordie love to do. We picked lots of veggies, then she sat on my lap while I chopped and cooked. Of course I was super careful with the knife and put her in her high chair when I needed to get near the stove. She wasn't much interested in those things, anyway, since I kept her hands full of goodies. She loved the orange pepper, but her favorite was the cucumber. And believe it or not, this little girl loves eating fresh lemons! (just like me) There wasn't a grimace or a squinch of her eyes. She sucked those babies dry.

The most exciting discovery I've made about Bella is her passion for music, which thrills me, since my father was a music professor, my grandfather was a piano teacher, my daughter is a singer and music therapist, and my main character in the LeGarde Mysteries is a music professor as well.

As soon as she arrives for a visit, Bella runs for the piano, and starts pressing keys. Her great grandmother (my MIL) holds her on her lap and plays the Hungarian Rhapsody for her. I do the same, and Bella holds my two index fingers while we play chopsticks together. Okay, so I'm a little rusty on my Chopin waltzes... She has a peculiar way of asking for me to repeat the song, a sort of little jiggle and bounce with big eyes turned up at me. There's no doubt that it means, "Do it again!"

When daughter Melanie plays her guitar, Bella is fascinated. Unlike Bella's older brothers, who we helped raise, and who would have grabbed and broken the guitar strings in a boyish macho fit of excitement, she delicately strums the strings. It's similar to the way she gently taps the wind chimes on the porch and seems to delight in their sounds. When I used to lift Gordie up, he'd smash them with a fist and laugh at how they flip flopped all over. He didn't mean it to be an act of violence. He's just a boy. ;o

So, once again, thank you God (and Kodak) for freeing me up this summer. Thank you for the time I've had with my darling granddaughter, for the weeks of play and tenderness, for the first time I took her swimming in the pool and her little feet paddled so strong, for the strolls in the garden with Bella holding my finger toddling beside me, and for the time I've enjoyed when she got sleepy and lay her little head on my chest. I've grown so close to her, it hurts when she leaves.


So what's this got to do with writing?

Everything. It's life. And that's where stories come from. I'll end up using many of these observations as traits for Gus LeGarde's twin granddaughters (Celeste and Marion) and even for Sam Moore's grandson, Timmy. Almost every scene I've ever used with these children has been based on my real life: daughters, grandsons, and now Bella.

The next time you get stuck on a story, or feel that dreaded block coming on, just stop, get up, and live life for a while. Not only will you have participated in your own life (a very good thing!) but soon the words will pour out of you, I promise.


Watch for Part 3 in a few weeks. I'll be delivering my daughter back to grad school in Boston next week and visiting my family, so probably won't get to post next weekend. Have a wonderful few weeks!


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside 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 his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2009.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Writing a Series

© Brett Battles 2009 all rights reserved

Writing a series is a tricky thing. You want to write each book so that it can be picked up and read, in effect, as a stand alone. Yet you also want there to be continuity running from novel to novel to novel.

In a way it’s kind of like doing a television series. Back in pre-1990s television, not exclusively, but for the most part, if you watched a television series it would basically reset itself each week. What I mean by this is that each episode would seldom be affected by the episode that preceded it. One week, Richie Cunningham of HAPPY DAYS fame could break his arm, but the next week his arm is fine and there’s not even a reference to it. Or one of Charlie’s Angels could meet a great guy one week, and completely have forgotten about him the next.

So what was really happening was that the characters on those shows weren’t growing. They were static, unchanging. (Okay, some of them had some changes, but they were very controlled and mostly minor.)

That used to drive me crazy! I’d want to know what happened to Richie’s arm, or why Angel Sabrina was suddenly single again.

Lately, though, television has gotten its act together. Shows have continuity. What happened one week effects what happens the next. You can see growth in the characters. You know the reason someone acts a certain way in episode 10 is because of their experience in episode 3. I think it’s great.

For most of these shows you can still jump in at any point and enjoy what is going on without having seen the whole season. But for some you can’t. Take LOST, for instance. If you haven’t been watching from the beginning, you’re probably going to be hopelessly…well…lost. While it’s worked for LOST, doing that can be a danger. You can lose viewers, because if they start missing an episode here and there, they have a hard time picking it up again later, and ultimately they say, “Why bother?”

That’s the same danger you run into with a series. Make each book too dependent on the one that came before and you will be narrowing your audience with each new release. So you’re left with two choices: 1) the static/reset approach, or 2) let your characters change and grow, but make sure that the book still stands alone.

For me, the static/reset approach is not an option. It just doesn’t work for me personally. Not in the stories I want to tell, anyway. So it’s number 2 that I strive for.

My main character, Jonathan Quinn, has definitely come a long way in my new book, SHADOW OF BETRAYAL, from when we met him first in THE CLEANER. And, just to give you a preview of things to come, he has a long way still to go. But not only Quinn has changed, so has his apprentice Nate, and his partner/girlfriend Orlando. So have some of his clients. But each story, each book still stands on its own. You don’t have to read THE CLEANER before you pick up THE DECEIVED. And you don’t have to read THE DECEIVED before you read SHADOW OF BETRAYAL. (Though I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest reading them all in whatever order you like!)

As I move forward with the series (and, yes, there will be another Quinn thriller next year), I will continue to work hard at creating this evolving world I’ve created while writing books that can be read without any previous exposure to Quinn’s life. It’s part of the challenge, and part of the fun.

* * *
About the author:

Brett Battles lives in Los Angeles and is the author of two acclaimed novels in the Jonathan Quinn series: The Cleaner, which was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel, and The Deceived, which was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller. He is at work on the fourth book in the series.

You can visit Brett Battles website at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Taking time out for LIFE

I recently (okay just this week!) took a few days off to vacation with my daughter as a sort of mom and kid thing but mostly to thank her for all the hard work she’s been putting in at college. She’s going to graduate on time, and with honors. I am very proud. When she asked me for a mother/daughter sort of vacation this year, I knew there was no way I would refuse her. Besides, I needed the time off and a little R and R as much as anyone.

Getting to the hotel was not difficult as it is in a nearby town. It is a casino resort hotel and totally a touristy sort of joint, but it has perks, like a pool. We wasted no time getting out there, either. Lord, it felt good to just sit in the abundant sunshine and read. I finished off the third Harry Potter book and got started on the fourth.

It occurred to me at the time that I do not do enough of this sort of thing. I haven’t really gotten near a pool or sunbathed in at least two years. It was heavenly. Swimming under the ninety degree sun was effortless and the water felt like you were sluicing through a velvet sheet.

We ended up eating a lot,(oh my, Paula Deen is the BEST COOK and I love her place!) resting a lot, reading a lot, and totally enjoying each other’s company. As she is a mere 21 and a baby to all sorts of legal age things, I corrupted her and showed her how to play the slots. It was a total utter hoot when she began talking to the machine begging it to give her a bonus round. I laughed a lot and feel as though we made some memories.

As I look back on those few precious days, I realize that this is the very thing that I needed to do the most to get back to writing. I needed to relax. I needed to refill. And we all must do that sometimes. It is just critical to our creative side to get the juices going.

If you haven’t taken time to do something good for yourself, I encourage you to do so. I have decided that I work entirely too hard. I spend six days working and one catching up and no time for the things that really matter. But not anymore.

From now on I am taking the advice of a magazine article I read while waiting on my massage at the spa at the hotel. From now on I am taking the Sabbath as a day of rest. God intended for man to work as hard as necessary all week long, but I don’t think he meant us to work on Sunday. He set the example and so, I am taking his lead. From now on I will not be doing anything for an entire twenty-four hour period from Saturday night at ten to Sunday night at ten. Nothing but resting, reading, and relaxing. Or maybe writing. I don’t consider writing work, well, at least not when I am mentally attuned to it.

I think our ancestors had it right. They took Sundays off. It was a holy day. Go to church, spend some down time just getting right with God, and forgetting that you have to do something. I hope I can put a few puzzles together, watch some good movies, work on my tan, and visit my kids.

Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. Let’s live it right.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Books For Our Troops & Their Families

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

I’m not a “cause” person, but I do have a soft spot for the men and women in our military. So when I heard about two great opportunities to donate books, Operation Desert Swap & Operation Books, I didn’t think twice about joining.

The driving force behind Operation Desert Swap is L-M Owens, author of Darius Prince of Legend & Darius Master of Dragons: Prince of Legend Book II. She is not only an author, but the mother of a 19 yr old son who is going to Iraq on Sept 11, 2009.

Her plan is simply to:

“To support our troops and boost morale. To take Operation Desert Swap to as many soldiers as possible.”

How? Interested authors will need to first visit her website and join the group. Authors will then be placed on a list to "adopt" a soldier and send them a copy of their book along with an initial ODS letter. At least once a month authors will send their soldier a letter to help keep their morale up. Members of this group will also send their soldier at least one care package during their deployment, plus a Christmas card and if possible a birthday card.

As part of the ODS project each soldier is asked to swap their book with another soldier when they have finished reading it, and then that soldier swaps it off with another and so on.
The first shipment of books is October 23, 2009, so the goal is to get 83 authors, one per soldier, before that date. The project is days/weeks old and has a long way to go.

The second project, OPERATION BOOK, is the brain child of author, Ernie Johnson. This project will collect books to be sent to the families of servicemen serving in IRAQ.

Christmas time is a lonely times for the families of servicemen and women who are serving our country in Iraq. Though a book, from an author won't cure that loneliness, it'll let that spouse at home know that American authors stand behind their spouses.

Authors from across America and Canada are already donating books to be sent, at Christmas time, to these spouses of our soldiers in Iraq. If you'd like to see more about this project, go to this link OPERATIION BOOK. If you're an author, and would like to donate one or more books send an e-mail to As soon as we have a specific location where we can collect and store these books until November, we'll inform all authors.

I hope this post will reach out to and nudge the many published authors who visit Murder By 4 to support our troops.
* * *

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 (2008) Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY AwardsTop 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, August 11, 2009

Signs You've Had a Good Chat

1. The mod is just as funny as the guests - and she has all the links and blurbs ready, even for guests who got shoehorned in at the last minute (thank you, Billie Jo!)

2. Despite being a PG-13 chat, a couple of naughty (but PG-13) words slip out of some folks *cough-wasn't-me-honest* - and the rest of the chat room takes them and runs with them. And stays PG-13.

3. Chat attendees ask awesome questions, and chat guests have awesome answers (Piper and Gray, you guys rock!)

4. Games are played that involve fruits, colors or animals - and some very interesting "fruits" are invoked :-) (Even if I did miss the opportunity to guess "Richard Simmons" - hey, I love you, Richard! You are the MAN!)

5. There is much virtual applause, virtual drinks, and exchanging of contact information.

6. An hour flies by in ten minutes, even for those of us who didn't get much sleep and can barely stand to look at the screen...

Thanks to everyone at the Romance Junkies chat last night. Hope to see you all again soon!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Paradise, Part 1

copyright Aaron Paul Lazar, 2009

Summer is already half gone, but I've tried to ignore the fact and have jumped into each day with unparalleled enthusiasm and joy.

I was born to be home, tending grandkids, working the land, cooking meals from the garden, and writing 'til my heart squeezes the last words onto the page. This is the dream-come-true, the life I've yearned for every single day for the past few decades. It's my heaven on earth, my own private nirvana, my paradise.

But since August 1st slipped past so silently, little stabs of dread are starting to attack my stomach. It's almost over. Soon I'll have to stop the "let's pretend this is my life" game and spend all day, every day searching for a job again.

Wait a minute. Let's focus on the positive. (see how good I am at avoidance?) Instead of giving in to the dread of uncertainty, I've decided to chronicle the wonderful and surprising things that have happened to me because Kodak laid me off this past spring. They have been numerous and delightful.

Here's Part 1.

"My name's Frank and I'm eighty-one years old."
That's the first thing Frank G. will tell you when he pumps your hand up and down with good humor and a face wreathed in smiles. This elderly neighbor and I met when he passed my property during his daily constitutionals. These mile-long walks, ordered by a heart doctor, serve to keep him healthy. But they also provide a break in his day. And they're much more interesting than sitting in front of the old cow shed on an aluminum lawn chair watching the cars and tractors go by.

When my outdoor projects take me closer to the road - trimming a monster forsythia bush, manning the roaring burn pile, nearly hidden by four-foot weeds, or mulching the twenty yards of wet black stuff I spread onto my gardens - Frank stops to chat.

On our first meeting, he swiped off his baseball cap and bent down to show me his bald scalp with a gruesome injury and blood soaked bandage. "Got this one last week. Had to go to the hospital and everything. See? Five staples?" I was shown the progress every day after that, watching it heal. And I heard all about the return visit to the hospital to take out the staples.

Supremely friendly, he smiles his toothless grin, marred with bits of tobacco, and tells me he's been chewing the stuff since he was nine years old.

"Haven't had teeth for thirty years. Don't need 'em. Don't want 'em, by George." With a sly smile, he often adds, "And I don't have to pay that durned dentist ten dollars every six months to clean them!"

Ten dollars. Wow. I think it's now up to $75.00.

Frank's been coming by daily for six weeks now. I've grown to enjoy his company. This quirky, friendly fellow who has no hair, no teeth, poor hearing, is twenty-five years my senior and who at first glance seems almost a little pesky, has become a friend. I've grown fond of him and miss him on the days I'm not working the land. He comes into the yard now, circles the house, and looks for me. Most days after we sit beneath the two-hundred year old maple tree beside my garden to talk, I load him down with zucchini, garlic, green beans, and onions.
He can use the food. He lives with his disabled daughter and her farm worker husband in the back of a barn, beside a bunch of cows. The water isn't potable, and the place smells downright rank. They want to get out of there because of the rotten conditions, but they need to find another cheap place and those aren't always available.
I quickly realized that this is one more example of why the severence from Kodak was actually a good thing. Instead of bringing in armloads of veggies to my relatively well-off former coworkers, I'm getting it to someone who truly needs it. I think it was meant to be.

Frank receives about seven hundred bucks a month on disability, but gives most of it to his daughter to help with the expenses. I asked him if it's enough. He smiled, slapped his hat on his thigh. "By George, it's just plenty. Me and my daughter do just fine."

I gave his family our rather worn-out 2001 Sienna van last month, since I would probably only get a few hundred dollars in tax relief from the donation anyway. It felt a lot better to give it to someone I know is in need, instead of to Good Will, where the benefit is real, but invisible. Frank and his son-in-law are handy with all things mechanical, and in no time they had it fixed up and on the road. My heart swells every time I see them drive past the house.

Because he has numerous tatoos emblazoning his arms, I'd assumed Frank was in the service. I discovered, however, that he was turned down because of his heart and had these tatoos put on when he was a young lad of nineteen. That confession quickly followed a complete unveiling of his chest and the scars that proved he'd had open heart surgery five years ago. He's quick to roll up his sleeves and pant legs to show me his latest cuts and bruises - and it makes me feel like a boy again, sharing "war wounds" like trophies. Funny thing is, I've been doing the same thing to him. I shared the cell phone picture of me with facial cellulitis in the hospital in June, where I looked like a circus side show freak.

I love showing him my progress around the property - each newly weeded and mulched bed gets a satisfying, "Good job, young man!" and a hearty pat on the back. It's strange, but I've grown to seek his approval.

Last week he met Toby, my daughter Melanie's little Rat Terrier. Frank surprised me by dropping down to all fours, spinning around in the grass, and patting the ground to engage his new pal. Toby rose to the occasion. With head to the grass and haunches up, tail wagging, and tongue lolling, he played with Frank just like he does with my dog, Balto. I snapped the above picture after they both tired.

During our many conversations, I discovered that my new friend has worked in factories all over the northeast, from New Jersey to Rochester. He tended cows as a fourteen year old (walking miles at 4 in the morning in deep snow) and even worked in a piano factory for a while. His wife died of cancer 11 years ago, and he's never found another soul mate since. "I never hit her or yelled at her," he boasts, "and I turned my paycheck over to her every single week." He's proud of that, because in his life he's seen some pretty awful things. He's chronicled the loss several children, most of his siblings, and other friends and relatives to suicides and freak accidents. The stories he has to tell make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Never mind that I hear some of them five times. ;o)
I asked him the other day if he likes to read books, because I was thinking of donating a few of my LeGarde Mysteries to him. It's such an integral part of me that it's hard for me not to talk about it. He hung his head and stared at the ground.

"I can't read."

The awkward moment was quickly dispelled when he dismissed it with a smile and started talking about his father again, the man who hit his mother and drank too much. I listened to the story again, nodding as if it were the first time I'd ever heard it, and sank into my lawn chair to enjoy the comaraderie.


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside 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 his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in August, 2009.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Place for Us

© Allyson Roy 2009 all rights reserved

Allyson Roy translates as Alice and Roy, husband and wife collaborating authors and winners of a 2009 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.

Their Saylor Oz mysteries combine gritty, urban suspense with wacky, over-the-top comedy and a dash of romance in a style they call Madcap Noir. Their second book in the series, BABYDOLL, came out on August 4th.

Choosing a setting is a big decision for an author, especially if you’re writing a series.

Sometimes it’s a matter of using the town you’re living in, which of course makes research that much easier. Sometimes it’s an excuse for a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to go. I think it was the late Phyllis A. Whitney, who said she loved sending away for travel brochures about exotic places where she could set her stories.

With our backgrounds in the arts -- Roy in theater, painting and stand-up comedy, Alice in dance -- we spent many gypsy years living in the different neighborhoods of Philadelphia and New York City. And when the regular cast of characters for our Saylor Oz mysteries came to life, we decided the perfect choice would be the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood of DUMBO (down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

For one thing, it has Gleason’s, the famous boxing gym. Since Roy is a devoted boxing fan we wanted to use that milieu as part of Saylor’s world. Her best friend and sleuthing sidekick, Benita Morales, is a professional female boxer as well as an obsessively frugal financial analyst. Then there’s trainer Jaleel Thomas and Saylor’s off-again, on-again heartthrob, middleweight turned hi-rise window washer, Eldridge Mace.

Because DUMBO was a warehouse and manufacturing district in the late 1800’s through the turn of the century, it still has the feel of its industrial, shipping industry past. But it is now combined with a hip, sophisticated community. Many of the buildings have been converted into expensive lofts, yet the neighborhood has a large contingent of artists and rock musicians and people who do things a little differently. Like Saylor’s rich Aunt Lana, a Naturist, who can’t see why anyone would want to wear clothes.

Best of all DUMBO has a beautiful noir atmosphere that makes it an ideal setting for a crime novel; subway trains rumbling overhead along the underbelly of the Manhattan Bridge, the lights of the bridge reflecting in the East River at night, and the Manhattan skyline across the dark water, and the canyon-like feel of narrow, Belgian brick cobbled streets surrounded by giant warehouses.

Just the place for our tiny heroine to find herself walking home alone after a modern dance concert, mellow on wine . . . and totally unaware that she’s being followed.

We’ve got some pics of DUMBO on our Behind the Series page at our website. Come check it out at

Many thanks to the authors of MURDER BY 4 for hosting us today.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Building Character

It has suddenly occurred to me that the best way to get into my character's head, is to interview my character. Sometimes that is fun to do with another character, but it is most beneficial to me as the writer to interview him or her as though I am a psyche doctor, and they are my patient.

It also occurred to me that this insane approach to building character might help you out there as well. So, without further ado, here is a sample interview.

ME: Hi, what's your name?
Them: Oh, you know, Sally Jones. Or maybe I'm Jenny Smith today.
ME: Don't you know who you are?
Them: Sure. I'm sure of who I am, are you?
ME: Well, hey now, I'm asking the questions here. How about you give me a few adjectives to describe you to people?
Them: Okay. So ... like... I'm impatient. I hate waiting on stuff. Like that?
ME: Yeah. That's good. What else?
Them: Oh um... fun. I think I'm pretty fun to be around.
ME: Tell me about your perceptions about your life. Are you happy with things?
Them: Sometimes. I mean, things really suck right now.
ME: Why is that?
Them: I kind of got into some trouble, only I wasn't even aware I was doing it. I was trying to be nice and help out my elderly aunt. Then the whole thing went south and now I'm stuck here with you.
ME: What about you is a strength that will help you out in this awful, terrible, ugly situation?
Them: Um. A strength? Oh. I guess, tenacity. Yeah, I can hang in there. I will beat this thing. No matter what, I have to help out my aunt. She's got cancer and she's counting on me big time.
ME: Is there some reason you could possibly fail?
Them: Yeah. I'm falling for this guy who stole something from me. Something that will save my aunt from losing her house. She's got cancer you know, and the bills. Oh dear, the bills.

Anyway.... so .... you see where this could go? I hope it helps you! I am off here to finish this conversation with this character. Sounds like a fantastic tale is about to unfold!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Benefit of Giving Away Free Books

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

I often see questions pop up on blogs and online discussion about the benefits of giving books away. I like making a sale as much as the next person, but rather than looking at giving away free books as a lost sale, consider it part of your advertising/promotional campaign.

Here's proof that giving away a book can have a positive benefit. Last week, I received a Google Alert that my second novel "The Devil Can Wait" received a new review. Man, I LOVE getting those e-mails!

The link led to author James Goodman's blog . James was one of our first guest bloggers on Murder By 4 when we launched the site in 2008. Last February, when we had our first anniversary celebation, he won a copy of my book. Sure I missed that sale, but in return, I got a great review I wasn't expecting. And you never know, now that James is familiar with my writing, he might be interested in reading SILENCED CRY or some of my future books. The point is, I've given away numerous books and have benefitted from nearly all of them in the form of a review, a blog post, intereviews, and happy readers which translates into possible additional sales. At this point, it's all about networking.

In return and to show my appreciation, I've posted the link to James's blog in several of the sites I frequent. This is what a win/win situation looks like. A little cross promotion doesn't hurt anyone and isn't that the name of the game?

With permission, I'm posting his review here, but please do take a minute to stop by and give James a bit of blog traffic and check out his books!

* * *

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Book Review: The Devil Can Wait

By James Goodman

"I recently had the pleasure of reading The Devil Can Wait by Marta Stephens. This is a masterfully written tale that rides the border between hard boiled crime mystery and an all out thriller. Her pacing was impeccable and her plotting more so. From the first page her characters reach out, grab you and refuse to let go until the bitter end. She creates the story with such realism, one almost forgets it is a work of fiction. I highly recommend this book to one and all. If you have enjoyed reading any of my books, you will love The Devil Can Wait."
* * *

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.

Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards
Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

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

Visit Sam Harper at

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

All Under One Roof

As a handful of my dearest writing friends know, I have this thriller series. I've been working on it for ten years. It involves street fighters, prostitutes, drug dealers, psychotics, sadists, crooked cops, modern-day warlords -- basically an ensemble cast of characters among which you'd be hard-pressed to find even one "good guy" (with the exception of one of the three main characters, whose name is, appropriately enough, Angel). This series has (at least I'd like to think) themes like betrayal and salvation, honor and sacrifice, love and hate, role reversals, revenge, and violence. Lots of violence. Did I mention violence?

I've had a problem with this series. Okay, I've had several problems. Most of them have been related to getting it published. About five years into the search for a publisher, I started referring to this as the "poor doomed series" instead of the series name I'd finally settled on. Poor Doomed Series was a hundred times rejected (not an exaggeration, unfortunately) once self-published (redacted when its creator realized she needed to put in a LOT more work on craft), and four times *thisclose* to published, only to have complications arise. The last time, the editor considering it loved the story - but the publishing house switched focus to romance only.

Through its various incarnations, I've had readers. With the exception of one older lady (who, in my defense, I did warn repeatedly and stridenly that it was full of VIOLENCE), everyone has had favorable things to say about Poor Doomed Series. The nearly universal reaction to the first book has been, "Where's the next one?" I've had people create fan art for this series. People e-mailing me out of the blue, several years after they read one or more of the books, asking what's happening with it and where can they get copies. People sitting around casting my movies for me. No one has been more shocked than me at these developments.

Considering all of this, I am very pleased to announce that Lyrical Press has offered me a contract for the entire Poor Doomed Series . . . er, I mean the House Phoenix Series. I'm currently working with a great editor on the first book, BROKEN ANGEL, and finishing up the long-put-off revisions for the second book. They also tell me there's a possibility of print for the series.

So, to everyone that has waited patiently (and not so patiently) for this series to become available - and to all my characters who have waited patiently (and not so patiently) for me to finish telling their stories - thank you for hanging in there, and we have finally arrived.

Monday, August 3, 2009

If I Tell You ... Marketing

© Sylvia Dickey Smith 2009 all rights reserved

If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you better look under her tongue! The same goes if I tell you book promotion can be fun.

We writers can obsess and stress about marketing. Likely that’s because selling or not selling books affect whether or not we get another book contract. But don’t let that scare you away from a new way of approaching the activity.

One day I reminded myself that life is way too short and writing is way too much fun to allow marketing to leave me feeling negative about it. So, by an act of my will, I reframed the process and ran smack into the law of attraction. When we have fun we attract people to us.

Now I create enjoyable ways to market my books and set up activities that make me laugh. For example: I just spent four days in Orange, a southeast Texas town with a population of 18,000, launching my latest book, DEAD WRECKONING. I had tons of fun and sold 150 books during those four events, 74 of which sold in one day. My protagonist in the book started making pickles so I made a few dozen jars, affixed a cute label and took them there to sell along with my books. The pickles themselves led folks over to my table. One man bought a jar of them just because he loved the label. Folks who bought the whole series received a free jar wrapped in colorful tissue paper and stuffed into a white paper bag. Customers walked off with smiles on their faces.

It’s only fair to mention my sister lives in Orange and knows everyone in town—not literally, but almost! I always take her to handle my cash box. Plus, she draws people to her like my fair skin draws mosquitoes. People see her, come over to chat, and she introduces me and tells them about my wonderful book! I almost had to tie her to the chair to keep her from dashing back to a nice warm car when the wind gusts got up to 35-45 miles per hour and the chill factor froze our bones, but folks started coming despite the weather and bought a record number of books. Talk about fun! So…if you want to rent out my sister…

Also, there is something to be said about regional mysteries, and that something is excitement. Fascinated by a mystery series set in their town, Orangites love reading a novel that features locations and sites they recognize. They seek me out to do events in their places of business and buy advertising for the events. I made friends with a couple of local newspaper reporters who have been helpful in letting folks know when I am in town. Three different papers ran articles and photos of me and my upcoming events. Many folks came by my tent and said, "Oh yes, this is the book I read about in the paper." They have talked about the books so much that news of the series has traveled all the way to England and Australia.

I have signed books in coffee shops, antique stores, and boutique wine shops while an Elvis impersonator sang, at art events, a Chamber of Commerce, libraries, a pharmacy, a Mardi Gras celebration, a Crawfish Boil, anywhere someone will let me set up a table. I always offer something for the customer, such as a live band playing great music, wine and cheese, alligator cut-out cookies, sandwiches, coffee, and even a sample of Sidra Smart’s new Sassy Pickles. I am speaking at Friends of the Library event soon. Following the theme of my latest book which features the ghost of Jean Lafitte and fictional female pirate Mary Anne Radcliff, I will dress in pirate costume, offer a treasure chest overflowing with gold-wrapped candy, have a couple of alligators (not live!) sitting on the table plus a pirate hat and knife, and a skull and crossbones banner.

Now, I don’t mean to mislead you. There have been events where I sold zero books, but if I find myself in such a situation, I’ve learned to turn the event into fun. I challenge myself to see how many people I can engage in conversation and then delight in the experience of making a new friend even if we never see each other again. It’s sort of like paying joy forward. Sometimes the person may end up buying my book and sometimes they don’t. But I’m a winner either way.
So remember this. If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you better look under her tongue.

About the author:

Born in Orange, Texas, Sylvia Dickey Smith entered this world backwards—feet first and left-handed—and says she’s done most things backward ever since.

At seventeen, she married a local boy and became the “pastor’s wife” while still a senior at Stark High School. After graduation, the two moved to Fort Worth where he attended seminary, and then later, to several small Texas towns where he pastored local Baptist churches. After being appointed as foreign missionaries to the Caribbean island of Trinidad, they lived and worked there for six years before returning to the U.S, and settling in El Paso, Texas.

At 41 Sylvia took her first freshman class at the University of Texas at El Paso and fought her way to a BA in Sociology and a Masters in Educational Psychology, all while rearing four children, being a pastor’s wife, and a foreign missionary.

After graduation, her life took a different turn. She struck out on her own and began a career as a single mother working with non-profit and for-profit organizations within the human services field, and conducting private practice as a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist.

Several years later, she married a retired Army Colonel, and they eventually relocated to the central Texas area where she continued employment within the human services field. After retirement, she took on the challenge to write a mystery novel.

After she decided to set her mystery series in Orange, she conducted research on the area and found a rich history she’d never known existed. She discovered a fascinating county full of folks from all walks of life, and of all color, each with an iron strength and determination. She also developed a new sense of awe and respect for the meandering Sabine and Neches Rivers, once plied by Paleo-Indians, pirate schooners, steamboat captains, Confederate Cottonclads, and then WW II Destroyers.

The result of this research inspired her to weave the past with the present in her mystery series with Sidra Smart and the Third Eye detective agency. Books in the series published so far are Dance On His Grave, Deadly Sins Deadly Secrets, and Dead Wreckoning. She recently completed a historical fiction called A War of Her Own, not yet published

To learn more about Sylvia Dickey Smith please visiter her website, and blog,