Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dialog Tags


copyright Aaron Lazar 2009



When I first started writing over a decade ago, I exulted in every new dialog tag I could think up. I preened over “he croaked” and purred over “she grumbled.” Finding new and inventive ways to say “he said” became my quest.

My early works were peppered with gloats, murmurs, and barks. I even started a most coveted (only by me) list.

How many words can you think of to say “he said” or “she said?” Here are some, in no particular order:

Mumbled
Murmured
Expostulated
Grunted
Groaned
Whispered
Purred
Spat
Huffed
Croaked
Barked
Choked
Queried
Cackled
Harrumphed
Stuttered
Muttered
Moaned
Hissed
Grumbled
Whined
Sang
Twittered
Tittered
Griped
Yelped
Cried
Stammered
Shrieked
Crooned
Wheedled
Retorted
Pressured
Cajoled

How many more can you think of? There are probably hundreds.

...


Okay, now that you’ve wracked your brain for tantalizing tags, let me tell you one very important lesson.
DON’T * EVER * USE * THEM.
What? Such brilliance? Such innovative thought?
Yeah. Sorry. Forget it. Never use anything but “said,” “asked,” or an occasional “whisper” or “mumble.”

Once in a great while, if you feel you really need it, slip in a “spat” or “croaked.” But I’m here to tell you that dialog tags, for the most part, should be invisible. “Said,” is invisible. “Asked,” is invisible. “Barked” stops the flow of the dialog. Anything that makes your story stutter needs to be eliminated, including these juicy but totally distracting tags.

Got that part?

Now that I’ve encouraged you to use “said,” I’m going to retract it.

Forgive me, but that’s just the way it is. If you can avoid a tag altogether–through the clever use of action “beats”– then more power to you.

Here’s an example of changing a passage from lush useless tags, to he said/she said tags, to using beats instead of tags:

Case A:


I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
“Want me to take over?” Tony wheedled.
“Why? Am I making you nervous?” I retorted, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white.
“Of course not, sweetums. You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break,” he crooned.
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants.

“Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire,” Tony groaned.


Case B


I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
“Want me to take over?” Tony said, leaning on the dashboard.
“Why? Am I making you nervous?” I said with a frown.
All smiles, he said, “Of course not, sweetums. You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break.”
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants.
“Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire,” Tony said in a panic.

***

Case C


I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
Tony braced himself on the dash. “Want me to take over?”
My knuckles turned white. “Why? Am I making you nervous?”
“Of course not, sweetums.” He forced an innocent smile. “You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break.”
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants.
Tony’s frozen smile barely hid his panic. “Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire.”

***
These examples aren’t beautifully written or perfectly rendered. But they should give you the gist of what I’m trying to illustrate today.

Add your own examples below, if you’d like. Let’s see some Case A, B, and C’s in the comments section!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why E-books?



Mb4 thanks Christine Duncan for being our guest blogger today!


Why E-books?

Friends often ask me why I chose to have my book e-published as well as print published. And it was very important to me. It was especially important that I figure out how to get good distribution for the e-book. So why do I like e-books so much? I attempt to explain this about once a year every year. It's really not so much an explanation of e-publication as much as a list of reason why I read them--ooh, let me count the ways.

Before starting out, I have to say I don't read e-books on my computer. I get as sick of the computer as everyone else. But neither do I have a pricey Kindle (I did give my husband a Sony reader for his b-day last year though. He won't even let me borrow it.) It is possible to read e-books on your pocket pc or that old Palm you have sitting in a drawer someplace. As to why you should--all I can tell you is why I do.

First off, I have lousy eyesight that requires hard contacts to correct. No joke--I'm as vain as the next woman, but I just don't see as well with glasses because I have scar tissue on my eyes and the contacts help to smoothe it down. As a child, many moons ago, this was hard. I flat out couldn't see--not the board the teacher was writing on, not the faces of the kids passing in the hallway; it was all just out of focus. Now it's no problem. I LOVE my contacts. Except that my eyedoctor recommends that I only wear them about 12 or 13 hours a day. That can cut out my reading time. But with e-books, I can make the font bigger and bigger so I can still read. For me, e-books often replace those large print books that you can find at the library and usually nowhere else. When I've told people this, sometimes a light will go on in a baby-boomer's face. Yes, e-books are definitely a way around reading glasses too.

Another semi-related thing I love about e-books is that I can read in bed without keeping the light on and disturbing my husband. My iPaq is not the newest out there but it syncs well with my computer and it has a backlight. I can't tell you how cool that is. I was messing with my daughter's iPhone and I know I could read on that too.

"So what?" you say. This means that you can always have a book in your pocket--whether you're waiting in front of the school to pick up the kids or at the doctor's office. If you're going on vacation, you can take a bunch of books--and not add an ounce to your luggage.

And you can download books any time and with some e-readers--anywhere. Two a.m and can't sleep but you've read everything in the house? No problem. Just go online and download your favorite author's latest. And you're not limited to Amazon, Fictionwise or the Palm store. More and more retailers are looking to get into e-books. Vroman's, the So Cal indie bookseller, is even thinking about adding ebooks.

I could go on and on about saving a tree and saving kids' backs by replacing text books with e-books. Oh, and about how e-texts can be updated much more easily and cheapily saving schools and college students' parents mucho bucks. The reasons for e-books abound.
Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating that all paper books be replaced. Sometimes people think it's an either or proposition so they start militantly advocating for paper. That's so unneccessary. E-books are just another way to read. They add something to my life that I need. And I can see them as an application that can add much to many. So I definitely wanted my books available that way. End of story.

Christine Duncan's Kaye Berreano mystery series is available in both print and electronic versions.



Christine Duncan is an Arvada Colorado mystery writer. She got her start in writing for the Christian market, writing for Sunday School magazines. Her credits include Accent Books and Regular Baptist Press.

Her Colorado based, Kaye Berreano mystery series debuted in 2002 with the book, Safe Beginnings, which dealt with arson in a battered women's shelter. Safe House, the second book in the series is due out this spring.

Although the Kaye Berreano mystery series is set in a battered women's shelter, Ms. Duncan's husband wants the world to know it's not because of anything he did!

Come visit Christine at HER WEBSITE
Or at her blog AT GLOBAL WRITE

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Perfection: Not happenin'

So. You think you have to get it right, straight out of your fingertips? Well, I am here to tell you, it just ain't so.

Yes, my grammar teacher would love me today. The fact is, I am feeling rather frothy. I mean, in order to get words on the page, we have to allow ourselves to be imperfect. For some people that is an impossibility. They either, A. don't have the time to go back and edit, or B. don't want to ever write anything that just isn't the best they can make it from the get go.

I am changing my methodology, though, as I am one of the above mentioned, and no, I am not saying which.

I am allowing myself the freedom to write ick on the first draft. I think truly it is okay, because who is gonna see it anyway?? No ONE! just me. So if I say it is okay to write garbage on the first round, to get the dang story out, then it IS okay.

Now.

I feel much better. I feel like this song :
Free to be Me

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How Not to Promote Yourself Online

Because Jane at DearAuthor knows her stuff, and is far more articulate than me in the morning, I direct you to her awesome list of things you should not do while promoting yourself on the internet:

10 Author Online Promotional Don'ts

Agent Janet Reid also has some excellent advice on how not to conduct yourself at conventions and writing conferences:

Yahoo Networking


Finally, this video has nothing to do with promoting yourself, online or otherwise - unless you're wondering what an effective viral video looks like (and you need a good laugh). If you're even passingly familiar with the X-Men, you'll get it:

Wolverine in 30 Seconds

Have a nice day!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Power of the Character Arc

© Joe Bright 2009 all rights reserved

As in life, the characters in a story often change as a result of the struggles they endure. This change is referred to as a character arc. We get satisfaction from seeing a greedy banker open his heart and wallet after being visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Or watching Edmond Dantès lose his naïveté after being framed by his best friend and cast into prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Character arcs keep story people from becoming flat and stagnate, and add an extra dimension to the story. They give characters a place to go, something to learn. Not all characters have an arc. James Bond comes to mind, as well as Robert Langdon, the hero of the The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. However, when critics speak of a dynamic character, they generally refer to one with an arc.

To create a good arc, you first need to expose your characters’ flaws. If they are already perfect, they have no room for growth. Psychologists point out that we not only love people for their strengths, but also for their weaknesses. This is also true of fictional people. Their imperfects make them more human and make us more sympathetic to their plight.

Flaws are easy to find. We need only look at ourselves and associates. When writing THE BLACK GARDEN, I utilized many of my own flaws to bring Mitchell Sanders to life. He runs away from his problems and doesn’t stand up for the things he believes in. Identifying his weaknesses immediately highlighted several scenes I had to write. First, I needed to illustrate his weaknesses. Second, I needed to show him attempting to overcome his flaws but failing. Third, I needed to show him succeed.

Transcending limitations takes time. We need to see the cause and effect, how the conflict changes the character’s beliefs and attitudes. Skipping from weakness to strength without illustrating the growth leaves the reader feeling cheated. To make it believable, we need to see the slow progress. It takes Mitchell Sanders several months to shed a degree of his selfishness. Because we see his growth, we believe it when he goes against his own ethics to help George O’Brien.

Not all growth is positive. Sometimes a character may start out with a bright and cheery outlook on the world and slowly become disillusioned or bitter. The hatred inside Edmond Dantès festers to the point that he can only find peace by destroying the man who was once his friend. Often, negative growth leads to tragedy, unless some positive growth can overpower it at the end.

The payoff for a well defined arc is emotion, which is what all of us seek in a good novel. The transformation draws the readers into the lives of the characters, allowing them to experience the fear or sadness or joy. It humanizes the characters and helps the writer plot out a course of action. Most important, it makes the characters and the narrative come alive.


About the author:

Joe Bright, author of THE BLACK GARDEN 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.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Connecting



Every night when I settle into my pillow, a strange thing happens. Just as I close my eyes and allow my brain to float… to drift… to slow down, dreams from the previous night flash before my mind’s eye. Bits and pieces of vivid scenes flit and dissolve into sensations, movement, colors, buildings, and people. A sense of place evolves, and it is always the locale of the dream that occurred the night before.

What’s going on here? I rarely think of the dreams during the day, but when it happens, a little door opens in my head and I see it all - often in its entirety.

For example, on Monday night the most powerful dream of the evening involved me running around Salzburg. That’s right, I took off for Austria in my pajamas and wandered cobblestone streets, passed high-spired churches, and drooled over delicacies in bakery windows. There was a sense of urgency that went with this dream, a searching for … something or someone. Maybe it was an apple strudel or Berliner (jelly donut). I can’t remember that part. But the scenes, streets, buildings, all came back as soon as my head hit the pillow the next night. In seconds. Maybe milliseconds.

On Tuesday, I dreamed of my father. He passed twelve years ago, and although you might think it odd, I consider these dreams “visits” with him. They are always pleasant, full of conversation, validation, and affection. In this dream, he was teaching me how to filet a fish. Dad was a great fisherman. I guess in Heaven cleaning a fish isn’t quite as gross as in real life. This fish had no stinky innards and its flesh was flakey and white, as if already grilled to perfection with lemon and plenty of butter.

On Wednesday, similar images returned before I moved on to new dreams. I saw Dad, the fish, and then swirled into a new adventure.

Is there a scratch pad memory in our brains that keeps an imprint there from the night before? The Dream RAM, or something? Maybe that’s it.

Some of my best dreams – mostly the ones involving skiing on gorgeous fluffy snowy hills – come back as well, months or years later. Now, see, it’s extra cool because I don’t downhill ski (I’m a wimp), but I do cross-country. Merged in these dreams are the thrilling sensations of sledding down a hill with the freedom of being upright on skis. With no fear, of course, and no falls. It’s bliss.

Then there are the recurring dreams. Like the one where I can’t find my locker in school, or my class schedule has disappeared and I panic.

How long has it been since I’ve wandered the academic hallways?

Decades.

Of course there’s the obligatory “I can’t find a bathroom when I need one” repeater dream. That one usually happens in the morning, when finding such a facility is a necessity, but I’m in sleeping too deeply to actually get my lazy self out of bed and stumble to the next room.

The flying dream also recurs frequently. I cherish that one. Willing myself from my earthly bonds, I lift up, higher and higher, until with arms spread I soar across the skies. Sigh. It’s the best one of all.

These connections, from night to night, as well as the connections with loved ones lost, are not dissimilar to another sensation that hits me daily.

When I’m writing a novel, I need to be in a certain zone, immersed fully in the story and in my character’s mind before I can move on to the next chapter. I write a chapter a day, in good times, and each night before I begin the next chapter I need to review the work from the day before to get into that zone. I ease into it, with anti-noise headphones doing their thing, relaxed in my comfy leather chair with my dog beside me. It’s connecting, it’s establishing the ground plane, and it’s essential. The feeling is not unlike that dreamy quality of just-before-you-sleep drowsiness. There’s a bit of a dreamlike quality to writing. After all, it’s all happening through pictures in your head. Right?

Is it close to the subliminal? Do writers tap near their subconscious when they create? Is it like this for an artist or musician?

I wouldn’t be surprised.

The layers of our lives are complex. Those deep-seated pockets of the subconscious, where fears from childhood fester, are not impossible to breach with focused therapy. The middle ground – the place where we dream – floats beneath consciousness and above fundamental memories, wafting like clouds waiting to descend. They’re all connected.

The next time you lay down to dream – notice what happens. Can you connect the events to the night before? To a commercial you saw on TV? A dialog you read in a book? A fervent desire? Think about it.

And remember, we’re all connected. Whether through God, oxygen, atoms, the net, or something more ethereal and lovely. We're all connected.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Books to Film: Is there a formula?


As an author who is also a filmmaker, I have gone through the full process of completing and releasing projects in both mediums. This has given me a very good perspective regarding the mental approach necessary for developing both novels and films. These experiences have also brought me a deep appreciation for the great differences with the writing and structural foundations of each of these mediums.

When it comes to the issue of film, I have definite opinions as to whether an author should do anything differently in developing a book with the hopes of making it a future target for a film project. It is only my personal perspective, and other writers may see this matter differently, but my absolute response is to fully develop the book, first and foremost. Once you have the best novel that you can write, that is when you should start thinking of ways that it could be adapted for film.

Of course, there are always some obvious over-arching issues regarding a particular book and its future film potential. If one is writing a sweeping epic, with massive battle scenes and scenic landscapes, it is a pretty safe bet that any possible film version will have to be a big budget Hollywood project. On the other hand, if the story is a little more intimate, involves a smaller number of characters, and does not entail overly exotic locations or period-piece demands, an independent film version could be possible. If a film can be made within a lower budget, independent context, it certainly broadens the possibility of a film option being secured, or a film actually getting made.

Those very basic, broad issues are about as much consideration as I would ever risk when looking towards writing a book with an interest towards making it a film in the future.

The flow and structuring of a movie are very different from that of a book, which is precisely why some things that work very well in books do not translate to movies, and vice versa.

A well-known example of this in the fantasy genre is the Tom Bombadil encounter in the Lord of the Rings novels, by J.R.R. Tolkien. The character is very beloved by fantasy readers, but in translating the trilogy to cinema, this segment would not have fit in well with the pacing of a movie.

A lot of readers were disappointed with the absence of Tom Bombadil, but being a film writer and director, I do understand exactly why Peter Jackson omitted this sequence (as well as the Sharky sequence at the end of Return of the King). The inclusion of the hobbits encounter with Tom Bombadil would have really slowed down the cinematic pace, if not taking things entirely off path. Peter Jackson needed to move the central story about the One Ring itself along, and made the proper decision for the particular medium.

Always keep in mind that a screenplay is, more or less, a blueprint. Where an author thoroughly paints images with words in a novel, often employing great detail, keeping detail fairly limited in describing scenes in a screenplay is the norm. Only the most important elements are included in a script, and any descriptions of general environments and atmosphere are kept very brief.

The screenplay’s final form gets significantly affected by many other individuals by the time that actual shooting of the movie takes place. The director, production designers, cinematographers, and even actors and actresses have a profound impact on the actual shooting script (what is
actually used for the physical production of the particular scene). Revisions to scripts take place constantly on a Hollywood set to meet the new adjustments, suggestions, ideas, and other input factors. Revisions are even being made on the very day that a particular scene is being shot.

Furthermore, with adaptations of novels, less than 10% of a novel even makes it to the finished screenplay (6-8% probably being a more general norm). This means that over 90% of a novel’s content is not going to be translated to the screenplay for eventual production. I believe that trying to develop the novel into something attractive for film becomes very problematic in this aspect, as it would be highly difficult for a writer to foresee what exactly would fall into the 90% or more that ends up being omitted, and what is retained. This does not even take into account the alterations and changes that occur during the production process, which result in the things that the reader watching a movie version notices were not in the original book.

This is not to dishearten an author regarding the possibility of an adaptation. Keep in mind that all manner of styles can be adapted over to film and television. George R.R. Martin’s writing style utilizing multiple character threads in his popular “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels is very different from the literary style employed by Terry Goodkind in his “Sword of Truth” novels. Yet Terry Goodkind’s work was adapted for the “Legend of the Seeker” television series, while Martin’s is currently being developed for an HBO series.

The rules of the movie game are pretty simple. Commercial potential breeds Hollywood interest, bottom line. If studio believes that it can a film version of a novel can sell, believe me, they will find a way to adapt it. A popular novel immediately becomes a viable target of interest for the film world. The movie world, like major publishers, are motivated by what sells. In a world where writers are artists, this is a cold reality, but it is a reality nonetheless.

So what is my advice at the end of the day?

Write the best novel that you possibly can. Focus all your efforts on the novel, without convoluting your effort by worrying about whether it might make a good film or not. Only then, and not a moment before, begin to look at ways to effectively adapt your book properly for the medium of film.

If you simply have a great movie idea, then just write the screenplay. You can always write a novelization of the movie later!

Bio:
Stephen Zimmer is an author and independent filmmaker living in Lexington, Kentucky. His debut novel, The Exodus Gate (Seventh Star Press, available in trade paperback, eBook, and Kindle editions), is the first of a projected 5 book modern fantasy series called The Rising Dawn Saga. The first book in his epic medieval-fantasy series is projected for fall release. Stephen’s filmmaking endeavors include the modern fantasy/supernatural Thriller “Shadows Light”, and the horror short film “The Sirens”, which is on volume 1 of the Festival of Horrors Series by
Indie Movie Masters.


Links:
Seventh Star Press
Stephen Zimmer's website
Stephen's Myspace page

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Weekly verbage

I am running short on words this week. For you, dear reader, and for my book. I am just short of time, patience, and words. So, indulge me this time, and instead of hearing about my wonderful life, books, etc. go off on a surfing adventure with me for a change.

I have gone out and found a few great sites for you to check out.

They have nothing to do with writing, or anything writing-related, so if that is not your desire today, you have my permission to skip them. I wanted to be entertained, so I found them entertaining and decided to share.

Enjoy!

Backseat Biker Momma

Bespoke Press

Pretty Sandy Feet

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

REVIEW: Fault Line by Barry Eisler

Being a fan of Barry Eisler’s Rain books, I was glad for the opportunity to review his latest release, Fault Line. I read with high expectations—and I was definitely not disappointed.

--------

Silicon Valley: the eccentric inventor of a new encryption application is murdered in an apparent drug deal. Istanbul: a cynical undercover operative receives a frantic call from his estranged brother, a patent lawyer who believes he’ll be the next victim. And on the sun-drenched slopes of Sand Hill Road, California’s nerve center of money and technology, old family hurts sting anew as two brothers who share nothing but blood and bitterness wage a desperate battle against a faceless enemy.

---------

When it comes to political thrillers, readers expect action, intrigue, and really cool gadgets. Many authors provide these things and little else – but not Eisler, who goes above and beyond with Fault Line. There is, of course, an engaging plot with plenty of twists and turns. The story touches on the events of 9/11 without relying on them or being overly political or preachy, but the main thrust centers on America’s current relations – both abroad, particularly with the Middle East, and within our own borders. Though a complicated emerging technology lies at the center of the fast-paced plot, Eisler handles the explanations of its applications – and dangers – so deftly that any layperson can follow the story.

The real strengths of Fault Line, however, lie in its characters. Brothers Alex and Ben Treven couldn’t be more different. Alex is a hard-working homebody, intelligent but naïve, and practically oblivious to the mild condescension his sharp mind creates in him. Jaded and cynical Ben, on the other hand, has stayed as far from home as possible. He trusts no one – with good reason, as it turns out. A family tragedy tore the brothers apart years ago, and they haven’t so much as spoken to each other until Alex’s call for help.

Each of the brothers represents an extreme – both in their temperaments and their worldview. Alex is uncertain, lacking in confidence and far too trusting of the world he’s presented. Ben is confident but hard, and unable to believe in anything except himself. Their character arcs throughout the story are believable, powerful and satisfying, and even brought me to tears a few times.

Fault Line is an excellent story of politics and technology, of action versus inaction, and most importantly, of human relationships and bonds. Even readers who are not fans of political thrillers will thoroughly enjoy this book. Thank you, Mr. Eisler, for a truly compelling, well-rounded and enjoyable read.

-----------

Fault Line by Barry Eisler. Available at all major booksellers and online in Kindle format from Amazon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Writing on the River


Murder by 4 recently published a post by Karen Hulene Bartell, urging writers to change their location for writing inspiration. I've known for decades that this works for me, because each time I've had a chance to travel - whether it was through a work conference to San Antonio or a family vacation to Cape Cod - I've come away with scads of new ideas for scenes, action, and characters. I can't help but soak up the new details of such locales. Of course, being away from the day to day worries and chores also helps to fuel the creative fire. And that's half the battle, right?

Last week my wife and I stayed at a rustic cabin in the Adirondacks. I say rustic, because it didn't have all the amenities of home. It wasn't like we had to use the old outhouse (there was one), but there was no cable (who cares?), no washer dryer (So? Bring extra clothes!) No cell phone service (ahh..peace and quiet) No Internet (Okay, I admit, I was in withdrawal) No neighbors...

That was the best part. It took a while to get used to the idea that we weren't being observed by casual drivers by or neighbors (I like my neighbors, but I liked this better...) By the end of the first day, we'd grown addicted to the delightful presence of the water rushing beneath us and the quiet calm of the woods.

The river had a personality of it's own. It's sound - more than a murmur, less than a roar - was chathartic. I opened my window at night to let in the cool (sometimes cold!) breeze to hear the river while I devoured books and slept like the proverbial log.

Of course, there was a reason I'd chosen to escape to this spot. I'd been stalling a little on my current WIP, a paranormal mystery set in the Adirondacks. But I hadn't been there in so many years, I was calling on distant memories and Internet photos. It worked fairly well, but I needed more. I needed the feel of the cool woods around me, the scent of balsam, the crunch underfoot of pine needles on soft dirt. I needed to be immersed.

And of course, the ability to up and go on the spur of the moment is actually one of the hidden blessings of being laid off from my job at Kodak. I never would have taken this week in May to go play in the woods for a whole week. But, with a good tax refund in hand, the possibility became a reality.
For hours each day, my wife and I sat in Adirondack chairs on the edge of the cliff that overlooked the gorgeous Sacandaga River in Hope, New York. (see above)

We were just about a half hour's drive inside the Adirondack Park, on the south side. The cabin reminded me of my childhood summers at camp in Maine (Tremolo: cry of the loon) and was absolutely perfect. We kept the fire going in the old Triumph woodstove.

It was pretty chilly in the morning and the tall pines overhead kept the cabin cool) all day. I cooked gourmet meals at night. We drank a bottle of Riesling most evenings, sat with a glass of Amaretto on ice in the afternoons in the warming sun that went down behind the mountain overlooking the river. At night we watched dozens of our favorite movies.

I read three books in six days: More Deaths Than One by Pat Bertram (fantastic plot!), Longshot by Dick Francis (a wonderful reread that reminded me what damned good writing is all about), and Marley and Me by John Grogan (hilarious and a heartbreaking work that also reminded me simple writing is often the best).

And folks, I wrote like the wind. God, did I write. The scenes flowed as easily as the Sacandaga River, set in the very cabin we stayed in. The cabin became the location my protagonist Marcella's mother had been stashed by the kidnappers; the river became the spot she fought with a rogue FBI agent, the island across the way became the secret spot her mother was abandoned, tied to the tallest pine tree in the center of the island.

In six glorious days, I wrote 13,000 words, and also set up the rest of the scenes in the book. Now I know where the lost "treasure" is located. And I know what form that treasure takes. And I've got all the lovely woodsy details to get Marcella, her mother, and Tony to the top of the mountain where they'll face a surprising end to a twisted story.

But the week was well balanced. Between writing for a few hours each day, reading, just spending time with my wife, and cooking, I also was able to do a little work I'd promised (back in January) on a friend's manuscript. Got about fifty pages done on that, which lessened my everpresent guilt.

I hiked and took photos every day - first around the cabin on the pine needle covered access roads, like this:
Next, I ventured into some grassy trails nearby where I shot wildflowers.
And finally, the day before we left, I accepted my own challenge to climb a local mountain to a remote lake. The experience was humbling, and damned hard. But I wouldn't have given that up for the world. And now I have the location of the final scene in The Aviary. ;o)


You can be sure this little orange newt (or salamander?) is going to show up in the book. ;o)
a
When I returned, I was thrilled to discover the ARC print version of MAZURKA in the mail. We have a set release date now: August 15th, 2009. Can you get what I'll be doing this week? Final proofing, here I come!
a
Even if you can't get away for a whole week, try a walk around the block or a country drive with your honey. Change your routine a little, and take a saunter down a path you've never checked out. Bring your dog and let him choose the way. Be sure not to get lost!) But whatever you do to change your environment for a little while, when you get back, I'll bet you'll write like the wind!
***
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 http://www.legardemysteries.com/ and http://www.mooremysteries.com/ and watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming August 15, 2009.



Friday, May 15, 2009

"The Devil Can Wait" ~ IPPY Finalist


Six years ago I discovered the love of writing. This afternoon I received word that the second book in my Sam Harper Crime Mystery, "The Devil Can Wait" tied for the bronze medal in the 2009 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY) -- a finalist in the mystery/suspense/thriller category.

When I consider the competition, I'm honored and amazed. I'm also extremely grateful to be blessed with some pretty awesome people in my corner during the writing of this book. They are:

The BeWrite Books team:
Cait Myers, publisher, BeWriter Books (UK)
Hugh McCracken, editor, BeWrite Books.

Book cover designers:

The word polishers:

Special acknowledgement to the following for their technical and professional expertise:
  • Detective Kristyn Bernier of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Police Department.
  • Felicia Donovan, author of the Black Widow Agency series and a New England-based ten-year veteran of law enforcement technology and cyber crime expert.
  • Reba Grass, police office, Ball State University, IN
  • Michael R. Mleczko, Systems Manager Technical Support, Ball State University, IN.
  • M. Christina Ruggiero, Spanish language advisor, IN.
My cheer block & co-workers who have read every word this writer has printed:
Debbie, Bonnie, and Cindy!

Never say never. What a way to start the weekend!
* * *

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

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008) Bronze medal finalist, 2009 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY), 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)
www.martastephens-author.com

You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

© Beth Groundwater 2009 all rights reserved

Book covers are designed to make an impact, though sometimes they send the wrong message about what’s inside. Authors may love or hate their covers, but regardless, most authors have an interesting story to tell about the cover art for at least one of their books. There’s the romance clench with the extra or missing arm, the animal that doesn’t match the species in the text, the anachronistic piece of clothing that didn’t exist in the time period portrayed in the historical.

I have stories about both covers for my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series books, A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. First, I have to say that I am very lucky to have a publisher that solicits ideas for book covers from the authors and encourages cover artists to design something that takes those ideas into account. Many authors have absolutely no say whatsoever in what their covers should look like.

Five Star Publishing has some excellent cover artists, and I had seen their work in the past and been impressed. So, when I was asked to give input for the cover of A REAL BASKET CASE, I thought I'd keep it short and sweet and let the artist's imagination fill in the blanks. Since the protagonist was a gift basket designer and the murder was committed with a handgun, I suggested the cover art include a handgun and a basket on its side with a hole in it and blood dripping out.

Here’s what the author representative sent me: An arm came in from the side of the cover, with the hand clutching the handle of a wire handheld grocery shopping basket. A child's rubber-tipped dart gun and plastic rubber-tipped darts lay scattered across the bottom of the picture.

Huh?

Near tears and with my mouth hanging open, I gaped at this odd interpretation of “gun” and “basket.” I debated with myself. As a brand-new author with Five Star, did I really want to make a stink about this? But how could I let it go? A grocery basket had no connection with my gift basket designer heroine. And what was with the rubber darts?

After tossing and turning through nightmares of evilly grinning kids peppering me with rubber darts, grocery carts chasing me through store aisles, and editors shouting “off with her head,” I finally woke in a calmer frame of mind. I wrote a detailed explanation to the author representative why the cover just would not do. Trying to find something positive to say, I complimented the pinkish-orange background color, not a typical shade for a mystery novel, which I said would make the book stand out on bookstore shelves.

Thankfully, the author representative, who knew what A REAL BASKET CASE was about, agreed with me. She contacted the art department, relayed my objections and asked them to try again. A couple of weeks later, she e-mailed me another file, with the caveat that this was it, the production schedule would not allow for another round of modifications. With trepidation, I opened the file, slowly released the squint closing my eyes...and was delighted!

A handgun appeared, with the barrel pointed upright. (A romance author friend of mine said, “Nice phallic symbol you've got there!”) There was no basket, but a bow was wrapped around the book as if it was a gift itself, and a subtle texture to the background simulated a basket weave. Here's where the artist's creativity was evident, because I never would have thought of this “tie-in” to the theme of the book. This is the cover that A REAL BASKET CASE sports today, and I've grown very fond of it. I've also received many compliments on the cover. I am so, so glad that I spoke up and refused to accept that first cover.

Now, on to cover art story number two, the cover for TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET.

This time I gave more information to the art department. I wrote that the opening scene is set on a downhill ski run of the Breckenridge, Colorado ski resort, so there should be an open expanse of snow lined with evergreen trees such as lodgepole pines, spruce and firs. I specified that a pair of downhill skis should be positioned in an X vertical to the snow because this is the universal “call for help” sign to alert ski patrol when there has been an accident. And, that's what my sleuth Claire Hanover does with her skis when the sister of her daughter's boyfriend hits a tree on the slope.

When I received the cover art this time, I was very pleased with it. It was a beautiful, eye-catching, wintery blue, with the theme of the bow wrapped around the book as if it is a gift carried over from the first book. However, there was one small problem.

A pair of ski boots was still affixed to the X'ed skis.

Now, what skier takes off their skis—and boots—in the middle of a cold, snowy ski run and walks around in their socks? After a good chuckle as I realized this artist had obviously never gone skiing, I e-mailed the author representative again with a change request. I knew this one would be minor, because I figured the boots could easily be removed from the picture. I was right, because within a day, I had the revised cover for TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET.

I am grateful that Five Star's art department has been so responsive in listening to my comments and so talented in creating striking covers that I absolutely love. Yes, I have a couple of amusing stories about my covers, but the stories have a happy ending. Unlike many of my author friends, I haven't had to live with a cover that I hate. So, the next time you see a book with cover art that you can't stand or are mislead by, please don't blame the author.
Anybody else got a juicy cover art story?
* * *
About the author:
Beth Groundwater’s first mystery novel, A REAL BASKET CASE, was published in March, 2007 and was nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha Award. The second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, will be released this month. It is set in Breckenridge, CO and opens with a death on the ski slope. As Kirkus Review said, "Groundwater's second leaves the bunny slope behind, offering some genuine black-diamond thrills." Between writing spurts, Beth defends her garden from marauding mule deer and wild rabbits and tries to avoid getting black-and-blue on the black and blue ski slopes of Colorado. Please visit her website at http://bethgroundwater.com for reviews, excerpts, discussion questions, and more information about this author's books, and upcoming signings.

A REAL BASKET CASE, Five Star, (2007), Best First Novel Agatha Nominee
TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, Five Star, May 2009

Note about the tour:
Groundwater's tour schedule is available at: http://bethgroundwater.com/Book_Blog_Tour.html. The next tour stop, on Sunday, will be a live interview with Kim Smith on Blog Talk Radio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/KimS/ .

Contest announcement:
If you comment this post, ask Groundwater a question during her visit today, or comment on her blog (http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/) anytime during her May 2009, blog book tour, you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed set of both books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. Good luck!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Writing description is like a cookout


Laughing. Okay, I have to admit, my second biggest love is BBQ. I am a lifelong Memphian after all! We do BBQ around here and this week is BBQ Heaven. The Memphis in May BBQ cookoff is going on.

It's all anyone around here is talking about, it is all we can do to keep from gnawing our arms off as we imagine the glorious smells down by the mighty Mississippi River where everyone is wheeling their grills, and firing up the mesquite. Oh, the tang of sauce so fragrant! The zing of dry rub every where!

The crowds will be huge, and every one will be eating, eating, eating!

What has this got to do with writing? Well, gee whiz you guys, didn't you smell the smoke? Taste the food? See the crowds?

Writing description is like a BBQ cookoff. You have to have all the right ingredients in just the right amounts, and you have to use a SLOW hand to make it turn out perfectly. Just ask any Memphis in May BBQ cookoff winner what their secret is and they will tell you, slow cooking, and best ingredients.

Make your reader see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and you will keep them reading forever. It's sorta important for them to be able to get into the story through the things you show them. SHOW. So... get those pens ready! Be prepared to take your reader to a place and bring it alive right before their very eyes.

It's not as easy as it sounds, either! Try to do all this and not use tired, cliched language.

I could say, Memphis BBQ is sweet, spicy and tart. But did that make your mouth water? Not like, the ribs are slow cooked until the drippings sizzle over the mesquite smoked fire, and the sauce is dribbled over it giving rise to a fragrant smoke that can be smelled for a mile in any direction. Now that makes even THIS old time BBQ lover drool, and I wasn't really trying hard!

Imagine what you can accomplish with a thesaurus by your elbow as you write!

As for me, I am off to raid the fridge. All this talk of food is making me rumbly in my tumbly :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Keep To Your Writing Goal


© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t watched the movie, “The Sound of Music?” Remember the Do-Re-Mi song that begins with, “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start ..?”
That's my challenge to aspiring authors. Start at the beginning, walk the extra mile, break out of your comfort zone, and look to new challenges. Don’t rush the writing and forget about getting an agent or publisher at this point. All in good time, my dears. All in good time!

Why? Because novels don’t materialize overnight. It often takes years of dedication, research, and a massive amount of hard work to turn that "great idea" into a polished page-turning story. Instead, concentrate on learning the craft. Learn and practice how to develop a writing voice, a good story plot, and interesting characters. Put away your worries about mapping out your journey just yet--finding an agent and publisher. So for now, concentrate on taking those essential first few baby steps toward accomplishing your writing goals. Thoughts of anything else only clutters the mind and will keep you from focusing on what you really want/need to do -- write.

Set aside a certain amount of time per day (whatever works for you) for "you time" and stick to it. Use your "you time" to do read, research, type, plot, etc. It doesn't matter how you use that time as long as it's writing related and will move you closer to your goal.

The best way to begin writing is to sit down and do it. Don't worry about making the first draft perfect. All first drafts are lousy. ;) Somewhere along the way I read that every author should write a first book as a practice run, place it on their bookshelf, and move on to work on their "real" book. I have such a manuscript. I wrote a spy suspense in 2002, haven't read it since then. I'm sure if I were to read it now, my skin would crawl because I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, I stopped because I didn't know what else to do with it. I started writing short stories and that's how I discovered my Sam Harper character and his detective series. However, writing that manuscript was a critical turning point for me because it proved that I could sit down and write at least 60,000 words that followed a plot. It also nudged me to continue to writer and eventually I became published five years later.

The important thing is to get your thoughts on paper and see where they take you.

Invest in resource books. They'll be the "bible" that will guide your path. I keep stacks of them next to me as I write and often review some of my favorites before I begin a new project. Subscribe a writer’s magazine or two and mark the articles that seem most relevant to what your needs are at the moment. Remember that all your books, subscriptions, writing supplies, etc., are tax deductable.

Get that first draft written. Print it, put it in a binder, and let it sit for several days. Then go back and read it with a fresh pair of eyes. As you read it, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the plot believable—does it make sense?
  • Do any of the scenes that stop me? If so, mark them for edit.
  • Is there enough conflict in every scene either between characters or within a character?
  • Do you have enough dialogue or too much? Do each of your characters have unique voices or do they all sound alike?
  • How do my chapters end? Did they end it at moments of: a major decision, a rising question, an emotional point in the scene, or just as something is about to be revealed or changed (negative or positive)? In other words, do the chapters urge you, the reader, to turn the page or put the book down?
  • How’s the pace? Remember to speed the action, write quick, snappy dialogue, to slow it down, write narrative and beats.
Once you've completed the first draft, check to make sure that everything that is in the book has a purpose. Don't be afraid to cut out sentences, entire scenes, or chapters if they don't advance the plot. Check your tags and repetitive words, spelling, punctuation, and all those other things you've learned from reading your wonderful references books.

Network with other writers. There's a wealth of information out there and never stop learning. There's always room for improvement no matter where you are in your writing.

Find a crit partner you trust and who won't just pat you on the back. As writers, we're too close to the work so constructive criticism is an absolute must. In the end, the fine line between success and failure is totally up to you -- just as it should be.

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

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008) Semifinalist, 2009 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY); 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)
www.martastephens-author.com
http://samharpercrimescene.blogspot.com
http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com
http://murderby4.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Humor as Inspiration

Sometimes I get ideas from things that make me laugh. And sometimes, reading something that makes me laugh simply puts me in the mood to write.

With that in mind - here are some laughs to inspire you!

1. A kindergarten pupil told his teacher he'd found a cat, but it was
dead.

"How do you know that the cat was dead?" she asked her pupil.

"Because I pissed in its ear and it didn't move," answered the child innocently.

"You did WHAT?!?" the teacher exclaimed in surprise.

"You know," explained the boy, "I leaned over and went ‘Pssst!' and it didn't move."

2. An exasperated mother, whose son was always getting into mischief, finally asked him "How do you expect to get into Heaven?"

The boy thought it over and said, "Well, I'll run in and out and in and out and keep slamming the door until St. Peter says, 'For Heaven's sake, Dylan, come in or stay out!'"

3. One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her son into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, "Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?"

The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. "I can't dear," she said. "I have to sleep in Daddy's room."

A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice: "The big sissy."

4. It was that time, during the Sunday morning service, for the children's sermon. All the children were invited to come forward. One little girl was wearing a particularly pretty dress and, as she sat down, the pastor leaned over and said, "That is a very pretty dress. Is it your Easter Dress?"

The little girl replied, directly into the pastor's clip-on microphone, "Yes, and my Mom says it's a bitch to iron."

5. When I was six months pregnant with my third child, my three year old came into the room when I was just getting ready to get into the shower. She said, "Mommy, you are getting fat!" I replied, "Yes, honey, remember Mommy has a baby growing in her tummy."

"I know," she replied, "but what's growing in your butt?"

7. A little boy was doing his math homework. He said to himself, "Two plus five, that son of a bitch is seven. Three plus six, that son of a bitch is nine...."

His mother heard what he was saying and gasped, "What are you doing?"

The little boy answered, "I'm doing my math homework, Mom."

"And this is how your teacher taught you to do it?" the mother asked.

"Yes," he answered.

Infuriated, the mother asked the teacher the next day, "What are you teaching my son in math?" The teacher replied, "Right now, we are learning addition." The mother asked, "And are you teaching them to say two plus two, that son of a bitch is four?"

After the teacher stopped laughing, she answered, "What I taught them was, two plus two, THE SUM OF WHICH, is four."

8. One day the first grade teacher was reading the story of Chicken Little to her class. She came to the part of the story where Chicken Little tried to warn the farmer. She read, "....and so Chicken Little went up to the farmer and said, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!"

The teacher paused, then asked the class, "And what do you think that farmer said?"

One little girl raised her hand and said, "I think he said: 'Holy Shit! A talking chicken!'"

The teacher was unable to teach for the next 10 minutes.

9. A certain little girl, when asked her name, would reply, "I'm Mr. Sugarbrown's daughter." Her mother told her this was wrong, she must say, "I'm Jane Sugarbrown." The Vicar spoke to her in Sunday School, and said, "Aren't you Mr. Sugarbrown's daughter?" She replied, "I thought I was, but mother says I'm not."

10. A little girl asked her mother, "Can I go outside and play with the boys?" Her mother replied, "No, you can't play with the boys, they're too rough." The little girl thought about it for a few moments and asked, "If I can find a smooth one, can I play with him?"

11. A little girl goes to the barber shop with her father. She stands next to the barber chair, while her dad gets his hair cut, eating a snack cake. The barber says to her, "Sweetheart, you're gonna get hair on your Twinkie."

She says, "Yes, I know, and I'm gonna get boobs too."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram


Title: A Spark of Heavenly Fire
Author: Pat Bertram
Publisher: Second Wind Publishing
Publisher's Address: 931-B South Main Street, Box 145, Kernersville, NC 27284
ISBN number: 978-1-935171-23-2
Price: $18.00
Publisher phone number and/or website address: www.secondwindpublishing.com

Review by Aaron Paul Lazar


Who says you can’t squeeze romance into a thriller? And while you’re at it, how about weaving in a deeply moving story about human redemption?

Author Pat Bertram says you can. And she’ll convince you before you can say chimera – the lethal combination of virus, bacterium, fungus, and human genes that causes the rapid spread of the “red death,” a bio-engineered weapon threatening the entire state of Colorado.

Kate Cummings is trying to deal with the loss of her husband, who drove his car off a mountain after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis. She passes by his bedroom without daring to enter, and slogs through life in a solemn daze, feeling guilty for every time she waited a few extra minutes to answer his summons, or for each time she became angry. His loss haunts her, and although her work at the Bowers Medical Clinic is fulfilling, it can’t heal the hole in her heart.

When a jogger stumbles into Kate with red eyes blazing, he vomits blood on her and dies instantly. A rash of similar deaths follows, decimating the state. Orange paint markers on front doors – signifying a “red death” in the marked homes - begin to appear with frightening regularity. Panicked parents discard their red-eyed children, fearful of contagion.

Enter Greg Pullman, reporter for the Denver News, who’s engaged to the ditzy beauty, Pippi O’Brien, local TV weather girl. But when he bumps into Kate after Pippi heads for the border in search of safety, things change. Together, Kate and Greg investigate and unearth the shocking source of the horror that has shut down their state and caused a rogue wing of the military to terrorize Colorado’s remaining citizens. Basic human amenities – so often taken for granted – become grounds for murder. And the streets are no longer safe to walk unescorted.

In addition to a killer story line, smooth writing, and phenomenal characterization, this page turning thriller features fine examples of charity through glimpses into Kate’s huge heart. The remarkable heroine opens her home to survivors who are homeless and hungry. Soon, partnered with a destitute woman named Dee, Kate’s home becomes a refuge for survivors. And in the midst of the massive deaths, terror, and horror, Kate finds salvation.

The tension in A Spark of Heavenly Fire is electric. Taut suspense pulls you along at a rapid pace. This reader was up way past his bedtime three nights in a row. And yes, it was that good.


**********************************************************************
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 http://www.legardemysteries.com/ and http://www.mooremysteries.com/ and watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2009.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Spatial or Linear Writing Style

Spatial versus linear writing

There are two schools of thought on how to write a book, or story, or article. Some people are linear writers where they put down each event in the piece as it happens and tie it all together. Some people write more spatially by just writing the whole thing and inserting items after the fact to bring it to a successful close.

Either way is fine, there is nothing wrong with writing in the manner that you are most comfortable. If you write a equals b equals c then you are a linear writer, most likely. If you get a whole story done with a bare bones feel, but yet, all out on the page, and find it easier to work backwards and insert information to fill it out, you are most likely a spatial writer.

I believe I have done it both ways during my writing career. That definitely tells me that being one or the other is not a lifelong sentence. You can change methods with each book. One might work better for a mystery than it does for a romance. Good news, eh?

In a mystery, you may have to go back and insert clues, suspects, false leads. That would make it a spatial sort of method, right?

In a romance, you may want to keep the couple apart then together, then apart again, before closing with them together happily ever after. Sounds quite linear, doesn’t it?

It would be very easy to take a book that you enjoy and think of it in these terms and decide if the author was spatially writing or linearly writing when they wrote it. This is a fun exercise for those interested, and I would be happy to hear what you found.

Either way, you can see where thinking in terms of writing style is a good way to flesh out the story of your heart. So – what are you today? A linear storyteller, or a spatial one?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Value of Gab

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

As most of our regular readers are aware, the MB4 gang, Kim Smith, S. W. Vaughn, Aaron Lazar and myself met several years ago. The more we got to know each other, the more apparent it became that we all have a great number of things in common—everything from raising children to pets, favorite foods, edits and reviews, gardening, book promotions, and oh yeah, writing! We are, as they say, like family. And like family, we may not always agree, but you can bet that when one is in need, the other three will be there in a heartbeat.

Recently, Kim and I have had many long talks on the phone about our writing dilemmas.

It so happens that she and I are at the same stage in our writing ... again. I’m at the mid point on the first draft of the third book in my Harper series; she’s a few thousands words behind me in her Shannon Wallace. Fear not, she’ll catch up soon and leave me far behind.

Now to make matters worse, we’ve recently stumbled over that same pesky writer’s block. As Kim and I talked about our experiences with our current manuscript and the struggle we had encountered while working out the kinks of a complicated plot, it was a tremendous relief to know that I wasn’t alone. At one point she blurted out in her endearing southern accent, “My thoughts are tied up in knots.” Short, sweet and to the point, my dear! That’s exactly how I felt too so we went from there.

My block was so overwhelming that several close to me, including my publisher, suggested I put this book aside and move on to the next one. But I’ve never been one to walk away from a challenge. I don’t expect perfection on the first draft, just a logical plot flow. Call it stubborn or whatever you please, I kept at it because for me, to not try only guarantees failure.

At any rate, as Kim and I discussed our jobs, other books, techniques, and what we were fixing for dinner, the answers to our plots started to come to the surface. In a matter of days, my thoughts got untangled and was able to see how the subplots will work their way into the main flow of the story. Now I can’t wait to sit at the keyboard and write.

So fellow writers, my advice of the week is, next time you run into a brick wall, turn off the e-mail, and pick up the phone or have a face to face chat with one of your best friend. It’s amazing what the gift of gab can do for the soul ... and your writing.

Oh yes, Kim suggested I also mention the following: The big shot in the arm this week is that my second book in the Sam Harper series, “The Devil Can Wait,” was selected as a semifinalist in the mystery/thriller category in the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY Awards).
The winners will be announced on May 29th on the first evening of the BookExpo America convention in NYC. Fingers crossed—please!

* * *

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

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008), Semifinalist, 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)

http://www.martastephens-author.com/
http://samharpercrimescene.blogspot.com/
http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com/
http://murderby4.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Free Books: Happy Birthday, Lyrical Press!

This month, Lyrical Press is celebrating its first year of publishing great reads and great authors with chats, blogs and giveaways. Lyrical will be giving away a free e-book every day during the month of May, and it's easy to win: just visit their blog, leave a comment, and you're entered!

Aaand just because this post is about Lyrical, I'd like to mention that I happen to have a book coming out there June 1. :-) Herewith, the world premiere of my snazzy trailer!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Introducing Ericka Scott - And A Contest!

Murder by 4 welcomes multi-published author Ericka Scott, who is celebrating her publishing anniversary with gifts for you! Read on for a chance to win a gift certificate to Barnes & Noble or Amazon.


Hello, I'm Ericka Scott and I write Seductive Suspense. I love words so much that I taught myself to read at three years old, and like most of my fellow authors, I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. I always wanted to be a published author, but as time went on, life got in the way. Working full-time, for me, was a huge sap to my creativity. I was often simply too tired to come home and write anything. Then, back in 1993, ‘baby’ came along and I was able to stay home for a few months with her. I was able to read more and finally worked up the courage to enter a few writing contests. I didn’t win anything, but I had fun.

Then life intervened again. I got divorced and had to go back to work to support myself and my little one. Luckily, this time, the job brought writing opportunities as a technical editor and writer for a government contractor. Granted, the “stories” were about airplanes and their associated systems, but I got to use my creativity to turn engineering nerd-speak into words the general public could understand.

About this time, life took an unexpected turn when I remarried. My writing also took off about that time (coincidence? Probably not) and I started writing short mystery fiction for publication. My short stories appeared in a few print publications and, more often, in e-zines. However, I still considered writing a hobby. It was something I did in my spare time.

In 2005, two more children came along. My husband and I faced the decision to give up one paycheck so that I could stay home with ‘the boys’. At first, I was very busy, then, as the babies became toddlers, I found that I had a bit more time on my hands. I was also discontent with writing short stories. I wanted to write bigger (and better) but didn’t have a clue where to start. One day, while looking for a challenge, I stumbled upon the Avon Fanlit contest.

I’d like to say the rest is history, but that wouldn’t quite be true. What I rediscovered was my love of romance, suspense, and reawakened my love of writing. Through several friends I made over the course of 8 weeks of insanity, I discovered e-publishing. After reading a staggering number of my friends’ works, I decided to try writing a novella. Anything over 10,000 words for me was difficult, but that’s exactly what I was looking for – a challenge. Surprisingly, I put together a 15,000-word story titled Crystal Clear and sent it off.

It was rejected.

However, Deanna Lee of Cobblestone Press must have seen some spark in my writing. She gave me a few suggestions for rewriting and asked me to resubmit. On May 17th, 2007, Crystal Clear was published.

Around this time, I confessed my most secret desire to my husband. I wanted to pursue writing with the intent to make a career out of it. He’s been incredibly supportive and because of him, I’ve been able to write a staggering number of books in the past two years (seventeen novellas and as of this month, one full-length novel!)

So, this month, I’m celebrating two years as a “published” author. It was quite a ride getting here and I’m glad to say that the journey isn’t over yet.

To celebrate my anniversary, I’m going to give the gift instead of receiving it. Leave a comment on this post and on May 17th, I’ll draw two names to win $10 gift certificates to Barnes and Noble (or Amazon).

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Visit Ericka Scott online at www.erickascott.com. Don't forget to leave your comment below for a chance to win!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Letting Go


Years ago, when mythree daughters gave up their dolls, teddy bears, and ambitions to become Ariel, The Little Mermaid, I was horrified to discover they were growing up. Fast. They'd become more independent. They did their own laundry, made their own lunches, drove themselves to play practice, work, and their friends' houses. For the first time in years, I actually had a little time on my hands.

Free time? The notion was completely foreign. I jumped at the chance to do something for myself, for the first time since they were born.

I wanted to write. Draw. Sing. Improve my piano skills. Learn violin. Take gorgeous photographs. Increase my gardens to impossibly delightful dimensions. Cook the most elegant, gourmet meals. Travel. Visit local wineries. Frequently. (LOL). I also pined for something more... something spiritual.

This "awakening" coincided with the appearance of a new pastor in our tiny country church. He was phenomenal: a decent, genuine, loving, inspirational man. His religious philosophies matched mine. He didn't talk about God exacting revenge or becoming wrathful. He talked of love and acceptance and forgiveness. When I sat in on any of his sermons, I walked away with a glow in my heart that carried me for the whole week. Reverend Tom made me want to be a better person, and I was hooked.

For a year or two, I took on more and more church responsibilities. There were very few of us, and many committee jobs that needed filling. I felt a loss when I didn't attend each Sunday.

Over the next few years, things changed. My eldest daughter moved home with her two baby boys. My writing career became much more serious, with promotional efforts demanding time as well as the creative obsession that stalked me daily. If I didn't write, I felt cheated. I had to write to be whole. And my little grandsons needed my love and attention as much as I needed them. Of course, there was also the obligatory "day job" that sucked up ten hours a day.

When Reverend Tom moved on to a larger church., I was devastated. Since the current minister didn't give me the same "lift" that Tom did, I slowed my attendance to spend more time with my grandsons and to keep my LeGarde series going.



I backed out of some meetings. Started a new paranormal mystery series. Then finally, I made "the call" to the Reverend Sally.

"I'm sorry. I just can't do it all anymore."

The phone calls began. "We need you! We miss you!" Parishioners begged me to return, lamenting the loss of my help. Guilt flooded me each time, but I stuck to my decision and did what was right for me at the time. I still miss the people of the church, and know I'll return someday when things calm down, but for now, I'm sure God understands. There are many ways to worship, and it doesn't always have to be inside the church.

Whether it's a church committee, or some other committment of time that drains you and steals your writing time - grant yourself permission to back off and give yourself a break! It's okay NOT to do it all, and it's okay to change priorities, even if you've said "Yes," in the past.

In this time of high stress, economic hardship, and when we often push ourselves beyond our limits, it's a good idea to make a list and prioritize. Cut out the items that are not absolutely essential, and go from there. Remember, you can always reprioritize when the need arises. And for you writers, be sure your writing makes it to the top section of the list! And that applies to every other form of art or means of nourishing your soul.


All right. Now that you've decided to eliminate the things you can live without - get out there and feed your soul! And remember to write like the wind!


- Aaron
www.aaronlazar.blogspot.com