Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gearing up for 2010

This new year upcoming holds a lot of promise. I am terribly excited about it to say the least.

My next book is coming out in January and I am gearing up for the book tour. Here is the link to my TOUR PAGE

I hope you will make plans to follow me around as I tour the Internet with Buried Angel. I will have give-aways, freebies, and more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009: The Final Days

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

The office was unnervingly quite on this frigid December morning. I stepped out of the elevator and glanced over the scattering of empty cubicles along the opposite wall. The sound of my steps followed me down the hall as I headed toward my office.

I flipped on the lights. My desks was covered with project files that I’d left in various stages of completion. For some, the deadline had come and gone. I tore the page from my desk calendar to the 31st and with a sweep of an arm I cleared the rubble into the trash cash and bid it good riddance. I pressed the intercom button and waited for 2009 to pick up the line.

“Come see me, will you?” From where I sat, I could see him walking down the hall. He was so confident, so brash, so totally unaware of what was about to happen.

“Yes?” he said.

“Sit down, 2009.” I motioned for him to take a seat then looked him square in eyes. “Do you remember your first day here?”

“Yeah, sure, January 1. The place was a mess.” He leaned back in his chair. His left foot dangled over his knee while the restless right tapped on the floor. “The guy before me left a huge mess. You were happy to see me, remember?”

“Yes, I was, wasn’t I? In fact, I had great expectations of you. That’s the beauty of a new year, 2009. It’s a chance to clean the slate and start over. Welcomed you into the firms, had your office ready, supplies in place. I distinctly remember the high hopes and anticipation of the great things to come. I truly embraced the opportunity of your arrival. More important, I was certain that between my strengths, my determination, and your fresh approach, the firm was going to go places.”

I let him chew on that for a while before slipping him the page on which I’d written his performance evaluation.

“Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite as I’d planned.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well, first of all, I’m not at all pleased with the company’s bottom line. You promised improvements in that area.” I pointed to the yellowed ripped line graph I’d taped to my wall. “And yet, it dropped like a pipe in a stagnant pond.”

“You can’t blame me for that,” he said. “The economy was already shaky when I came on.”

“Yes, but you did nothing to help our diminished profits. In fact, you added to the problem.”

“I suppose you’re going to blame me for the war and what’s going on in Washington too.”

“Granted you inherited a few of headaches, but you were paid to manage the firm and fix those problems. Instead, you did nothing but talk on the phone and take long lunch hours.”

“That’s not fair. You’re doing okay.”

“Only because your actions forced me to become more frugal. Look around! The place is in a state of chaos. There is no security, no guarantees any more. Everything I’d taken for granted is gone.”

“Your success is a testament to my diligence,” he said.

“Testament? You want testimonials? Don’t think that I’m speaking solely for myself. I’m not the only one who has seen you hanging around the water cooler while there was work to be done. I have witnesses and plenty of them. “

“Like who?”

I reached into my top desk drawers and pulled out a sizable stack of papers. They made a hollow sounding thud as they dropped onto my desk. “This one’s from John in Accounting,” I said as I scanned over the first page covered in numbers written in red and shoved it across the desk to him. I grabbed the next one and tossed it at him as well. “Janice in Receivables is beside herself, and Joe at the docks told me more profits are leaving the firm than coming in. Your careless management style has affected countless employees—all neighbors and friends. I’ve heard the same grumbling over and over again—many had worse tales to tell than mine.”

“A clear case of over-exaggeration. You know what they say, misery loves company.”

“Don’t be smug.” My fist made a thundering noise when it hit the desk. I could only admit to one thing. Our experiences had brought many of us closer together.

“What about the good things I did? The increased vacation times, the recognitions my actions brought to the firm. Maybe we didn’t have an extravagant year, but it wasn’t all bad.”

“Granted. Whether by intent, an incredible accident, or a stroke of luck, some good did manage to slip through the cracks and for that, I’m grateful.” I rose to my feet and turned to gaze out the window. “At least I still have my family, my friends, and colleagues. I have my health and the insurance to help me keep it. My mind is clearer now and, I might add that wry as it may seem, I’ve managed to hold on to my sense of humor.”

When he started to patronize me again with one of his condescending remarks I acknowledged that I did have a comfortable home, enough money for what my family needed. “Yes, and somehow, there’s always a little extra for what we want. I know I'm truly blessed.”

“Glad to know it. Now, are we done?” he asked and started to get to his feet.

“Sit down!” I was getting tired of his arrogance and was determined he wouldn’t get the last word. “I’m a strong believer that things, good or bad, happen for a reason. In this case, your poor management style forced me out of my comfort zone and made me think outside the box—more than once I might add. No matter how hard you tried, you weren’t able to sever my will or crush my character. You haven’t dampened my optimism or diminished my believes. No, 2009, because of you, I am more determined than ever before to succeed. So thank you, thank you so much!”

“I thought you’d see things my way. In the next couple of weeks—”

“Don’t get too cocky. Your time here is over.”

“But—” He rushed to his feet again and leaned over my desk. “You can’t be serious!”

“Aren’t I?” I shoved all the testimonials back into my drawer and slammed it shut. “I’ve already hired your replacement. 2010 will be here soon. I need to get ready. I don’t want a scene either. There’s certainly no need for lengthy good-byes.” I glanced at my watch and tapped its face. “You have just enough time to collect your things.”

A shocked expression was still on his face when he turned to leave.

“I’ll take your key now.”

He reached into his pocket, bounced the key a couple of times in the palm of his hands, and then placed it in mine. “I suppose this means you won’t provide me with a reference.”

Just then the phone rang, but an uncontrollable laugh poured from my lips as I motioned for him to leave. “Highly unlikely, 2009. Highly unlikely.”

* * *
Best wishes for a great New Year to all!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Interview with Steve Forman

Tell us the title of your book and where we can buy it.

A. Boca Knights was released in hard cover in February of 2009 and was recently released in mass market paper back on December 1, 2009. It was Tor Publishing’s lead book for the month. Boca Mournings, my second novel, is being released in hard cover February 2nd, 2010. Both books are available in all major traditional bookstores, e-bookstores and can be downloaded on Kindle.

What is your book about? What genre is it and will you be writing another one in that same field?

A. Boca Knights is the story of Eddie Perlmutter, one of Boston’s most decorated, celebrated, heroic police detectives. Eddie retires to Boca Raton, Florida at sixty years old and becomes a hero all over again. He is nicknamed the Boca Knight by a local newspaper reporter after he saves two damsels in distress, solves a murder, busts a Russian Mafia ring and takes on a hate group that is seeking to infiltrate the tranquil gated communities of Boca Raton. Eddie describes a Boca Knight as ”anyone willing to fight for everyone’s right to live in peace.” Eddie inspires people to be all they can be…regardless of their age…and stop mourning what they “ustabe”… (“I ustabe a lawyer,”…”I ustabe a doctor.”…”I ustabe in business.”…) He leads by example and people follow.

I guess I fit into the mystery/comedy genre.

What inspired you to write your book?

A. I began spending my winters in Boca Raton in 1992. I was still active in my business and had no interest in leading the retired life of the people I referred to as “the ustabees”… The more I got to know these people, however, the more I began to appreciate that a ustabee had-to-be someone special in his prime and those special qualities can still shine through. Sometimes people just have to be reminded. Eddie Perlmutter jogs a lot of memories. I was inspired by the desire to tell the world about this underutilized human resource.

How long did it take you to write it?

A. It took me two years to write Boca Knights but I was still running an international company full time. I wrote from four in the morning until six…seven days a week. The second book took about 18 months while still working.

How much time do you spend editing and what is your method?

A. Not being an experienced writer I hired an editor to work on my manuscript as I wrote it. We communicated strictly by email and it was an on-going process. When my paid editor was done I did my own editing. Finally, when my manuscript was approved for publishing I worked with the publisher’s editor for months. I can safely say I spent more time editing than I did writing the story. Any author who can write a publishable first draft doesn’t need any advice from me. I think extensive editing is essential in the process of writing a good book. One of the greatest talents a writer can have is the ability to know when his work is bad and needs to be improved. My editing method is basic. I read my writing out loud. If I don’t like what I hear I re-write it until I’m satisfied.

Do you belong to a critique group? What is your opinion of critique groups?

A. I do not belong to a critique group. I write to entertain the average reader not to satisfy fellow writers. I have two non-writers read my drafts and I ask them to tell me what works and what doesn’t. I listen to readers more than writers. Listening to critique groups might be as confusing as it is helpful.

How do you market your book?

A. My publisher has a PR department who arranges radio and television interviews, phone interviews, discounts, in store promos, etc. I do a lot of signings and speaking engagements.

I also have my own PR firm that covers what the publisher’s PR department doesn’t. Without marketing and promotions I don’t think a new author can sell many books. Of course there are exceptions to every rule.

Do you have an agent? Was the process you went through to gain an agent difficult?

A. I have an agent. You can’t live without one when you’re beginning. I got my agent’s name from an associate who had worked with him. My first conversation with the agent was discouraging. He told me he rejected 99.9 % of what he reads and instructed me to send him three pages. After a couple of days he asked me to send him more pages. Then he asked for the entire book. Finally I got a call and was greeted with these unforgettable words; “Welcome to that one tenth of one percent.” He sold the ms to a major publishing company in a matter of months. It took eighteen more months for the book to be published. If you’re in a hurry…find another profession.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

A. I love Doug Preston as an author and a person. I like Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, Nelson Demille and Dennis Lehane. I like many other writers as well.

Do you believe reading is important for writers?

A. Reading is a must for me. I learn so much by reading the material of talented writers.

Do you have any advice geared toward the writing, or publishing of a book for our members?

A. I recommend every aspiring writer read “The Elements of Style” fourth edition. It is filled with useful lessons in writing and emphasizes the need to be concise. I recommend you be your own toughest critic and never accept anything less than your best effort. This takes a lot of patience but in the end your manuscript will represent the best you can do and hopefully that will be good enough. I also recommend attending writer’s conventions that include an event that allows you to meet one on one with literary agents... by appointment. Thrillerfest in NYC every summer has an excellent “agent meet writer” format.

Self publishing is also an option but book sales in this field are usually pretty dismal. If your objective is just to see your words in print then self publishing is the quickest way to get that done. There are a lot of self publishing firms. Check them out carefully before you spend your money.

Steve Forman is the author of Boca Knights now available here:



B & N

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Trials, Tribulations, and the Blessings of Family

I admit it. I've been spoiled for the past few years since my three daughters and grandchildren moved out. Yes, in spite of the loss of my day job and the near catastrophe of almost losing my eldest daughter a few weeks ago, I've been spoiled.

How so?

By having time for me. Time to write. Time to think. Time to just be.

This week - and the past three - have been bedlam since Jenn moved home with Julian, Gordie, Isabella, and her critters, Amber, Domino, and Panda. Don't get me wrong - I'm thrilled to have them all home again for as long as it takes for Jenn to get on her feet again. I love my grandsons fiercely - after all, we're best pals - and my granddaughter has become "Papa's girl," as you might expect. I've enjoyed preparing beautiful meals for them, doing mounds of laundry, keeping up with the dishes, and cleaning up after them.

Really. I have. 'Cause I know how close I came to losing Jennifer, and how incredibly fragile life can be. So the work of caring for her and her children - what some might call drudgery - has become an honor and part of my way to thank God for sparing her.

In spite of this aspect of our new life, however, there's a piece of me that's dying. Crying out for attention. Bleeding to death on the inside.

My writing time has gone up in smoke, and this is the first time since Jenn became ill on December 5th that I've snatched a minute to write. My novel - once going at a fast clip of a chapter a day - has come to a screaming standstill. I miss my characters, desperately. And I think I might explode if I have to wait one more day to get back to Gus, Tully, and Penni.

Each day I think there may be hope - now that the boys have gone to their daddy's for a week, I thought I'd have time. But Jenn went back to work last night (she's a nurse and works 12 hour overnight shifts) and baby Isabella had an evening of projectile vomiting, poor thing. There went my luscious hours of writing. Four changes of bedsheets and clothing, all within a few hours. And of course, she woke up at her usual five am, so I couldn't sneak in my writing then, either.

Fortunately - maybe because she's sick? - she went back to sleep after I cared for her from five to seven this morning. She lay down and tried to cover herself with her blanket. I looked at her with a desperate, feverish hope in my eyes. "Really? You want to go night-night?"

She nodded. I gave her her binky and drink, covered her with trembling hands, and crossed my fingers and toes that she'd really sleep. And by golly (as my character Tully would say... LOL), she's still sleeping a half hour later! I've had time to write a few words to you, dear readers, without squawking or spills or doggie mistakes on the carpet. Oh, yes. We've had plenty of those, too. Another story for another day.

Have a wonderful week. And I pray you find more time to write or follow your passions than I have this month!

Left to right: Jenn, me, Melanie, Allison (Balto on my lap)

Melanie (and her dog, Toby), Julian, and Gordie

New doggie additions: Amber and Domino


Baby's awake, must fly. All my best to all of our MB4 bloggers and readers!

                                                                                                                               - Aaron

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas y'all!

I have finally got the tree up, the presents bought, wrapped, and under the tree. I have finished the shopping, the marketing, and will get the cooking done soon. See? I told you I would get there!

Don’t you love the wonder of Christmas? Kids always make the holiday bright. The very astonishment they exhibit is enough to make it all worth it.

I have been talking about Christmas memories this week and remembered some very cool things. I also have reminded everyone to be sure and exhibit the kindness we all are supposed to show this time of year.

Now I will look forward to my time off (five and one-half days!! Whoo hoo!) and the coming New Year celebration.

Life is good and things are looking sunny. I hope you have as much enthusiasm and joy this holiday as you can hold, and the words “May your days be merry and bright” rings truer than ever before.

Merry Christmas, y’all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas At Home

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

This will be the thirtieth year I cook Christmas Dinner. You would think I’d have things down to a science and yet, every year, days before the big event, I’ve always found myself running around in a panic trying to get the house decorated, cards and packages in the mail, get the baking done, and do those last-minute bits of shopping that are always so exhausting.

At best, 2009 can only be described as chaotic and thus I was totally prepared for an equally muddled holiday season. But true to the nature of this not so amazing year, something went terribly wrong.

Three weeks ago, I grit my teeth and joined the hordes of other shoppers in search for those oh so special items on my list. Amazingly enough, I found everything I’d hoped for and then some in one store and spent only two hours and a wee less money than I had expected. Oh joy!

Except for the person who insists on sending us a seasonal letter every year that might as well be a bulleted list of the family’s accomplishments and travels throughout the year, I love getting Christmas cards. This year, our list has dwindled down to only around ten or fifteen, but I was determined to get them in the mail in time for a early arrival. So last week, while I listened to my MB4 pal, Kim Smith interview another MB4 pal, Aaron Lazar on her Blogtalk Radio “Introducing Writers” I addressed the cards, wrote several notes and got them in the mail the following day. Halleluiah!

Last Sunday I put the last of the decorations up and spent much of my morning doing my grocery shopping. I’m normally the one in the family who keeps going from one project to another, but my feet and back insisted I kick back—this time, I decided to listen and was glad I did. A-h-h-h!

Over the past several days, we’ve watched several of our favorite Christmas movies; “Christmas in Connecticut”, “Christmas Vacation”, “Scrooge (1938)”, and “While You Were Sleeping” (okay, it’s not a holiday movie, but the story takes place over the holiday season so in my book it counts). “A Christmas Story”, “White Christmas”, and “The Lemon Drop Kid” are waiting their turn. Love it!

It’s December 23. My house is clean, the presents are wrapped and under the tree, and appropriately, we had our first snow fall a couple of days ago. I’ll start my baking this morning and I have a few dishes to prepare ahead of time for the Christmas Eve as well as Christmas Day. A wonderful feeling!

So all in all, this holiday season has been untraditionally “organized.” I’ve continued to write every day and am very near completion of my final edits of SHROUD OF LIES. I have several writing projects planned for the early part of next year, but I was most excited to hear from my publisher last week when he wrote to say that my Sam Harper novels, SILENCED CRY and THE DEVIL CAN WAIT are being re-run, redesigned and reformatted to present in several different e-book formats through in the US and their affiliate retailers including Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and several other online e-book stores. My novels have always been available in e-book format as well as paperback, but this will certainly give us a new focus. I’m SO pumped about this.

2009 has brought us a loss of family and friends, loss of income, the abandonment of a one novel (50,000 words shelved for a better day), and crazy, stressful work schedules that left me feeling beat at the end of most days. And yet ... my family, our humour, and the love we have for each other have remained intact. I’m far more fortunate than deserving of my wonderful friends who have steadfastly been there at every turn—you know who you are and you are a treasure!

In spite of it all, last June I was able to write the first draft of SHROUD OF LIES in 50 days and will soon have it ready for a final read before I start pitching it to agents.

So all in all, this year has ended in a positive note and life continues to be is as it should—filled with countless blessings.

Best wishes to all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays (and Happy Release Day!)

Well, it's that time of the year! Some of you are already celebrating (and Happy Hanukkah to you!); some of you already have (Blessed Be!), and some celebrations are yet to come (Merry Christmas, and Happy Kwanzaa!). For anyone I've missed... Bah Humbug, or however you articulate your season's greetings. :-)

So - tell me, what are your holiday traditions? Mine include avoidance and panic for a month or so leading up to the season, putting up the tree no more than one week before Christmas, frazzled bursts of last-minute shopping, and an all-night Christmas Eve wrapping marathon (yes, I have tried to break the habit. Alas, it doesn't work.)

And in the meantime, while most of publishing is taking a vacation, I'm still working! Trust me, this is not a complaint. If I wasn't doing something writing-related, I'd go out of my mind and take everyone with me.

Today is the release day for my latest novel, SKIN DEEP, from Loose Id (I know, you were just dying to hear all about it, weren't you?). I'm very excited about this, since it's my first foray into erotica. Please indulge me as I share my little blurb and a beautiful piece of cover art by Anne Cain (or, ya know, feel free to ignore the rest of this post. :-)



Will Ambrose knows everything about love – except how to find it himself. He hosts a popular GLBT relationship radio show, but his own affairs have been rocky and abusive. With sexy, seductive tattoo artist Cobalt, it's lust at first sight. Unfortunately he's already involved ... until that night, when his late arrival home sends his cop partner into a jealous, violent rage.

Cobalt is a Fae, banished to live among humans. His studio, The Grotto, is both a hot spot for the NYC body art crowd and a haven for other Fae seeking protection. Though he's given up on relationships, since his human lovers tend to go insane when they discover his true nature, he can't help his lustful reaction to Will when the radio host visits The Grotto. He tries to dismiss it, but is compelled to get involved when a cab deposits a battered, broken Will at his door, with Cobalt's name on his lips.

Can their powerful attraction – and phenomenal sex – overcome an abusive closeted cop, a traitorous Fae who tries to divide them, and an ex-lover with inhuman powers who'll stop at nothing to take Cobalt back ... including going through Will?


Friday, December 18, 2009

Interview with Rocco Martino, author of "Cancel Christmas!"

I've recently had a chance to interview author Rocco Martino, a trained astrophysics as well as an international authority on finance, planning, space flight, computer systems, and a former educator. After writing 20 non-fiction books, Martino has just published his first work of fiction and you can read all about this man’s fascinating career and writing journey today on Novel Works .

CANCEL CHRISTMAS! is a modern-day retelling of A CHRISTMAS CAROL that examines how unscrupulous plans can be hatched against the will of the people using taxpayer money to hoodwink and thwart opposition.

Ultimately, the book - a sharp satire interspersed with humor and a little romance - proves that Christmas is an attitude of mind shared by many people, that it does a lot of good, and shouldn't be altered. The greed of a single person must never be allowed to subvert the function of government so that one person's profit can be achieved at the expense of many.

Book blurb for CANCEL CHRISTMAS:

CANCEL CHRISTMAS will make you laugh and make you angry. It could happen. Greed, ambition, and the misuse of taxpayer money are nothing new. This book depicts the classic struggle between might and right; and between raw power and thoughtful evaluation. For some, the will of the people doesn’t matter since ‘people don’t count’ as one major character says in the book.”

Stop by if you have a minute and learn more about Rocco Martino and his new novel, CANCEL CHRISTMAS! It's definitely on my must read list now!

About the Author:
Dr. Rocco Martino is an international authority on finance, planning, space flight and computer systems. Trained in astrophysics, this rocket scientist was one of the creators of the computer age. He has traveled the world and served many of the largest organizations and governments on the globe. He is a keen observer of the world about us all. He has written newspaper columns, novels, plays, and technical works. He has authored twenty works of non-fiction and one other novel. He uses his knowledge of the inner workings of government and business, together with a lot of humor, to punctuate his message.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sugar Cookies, Eggnog and Me

This post is from 2009's Grinch of the Year, Kim Smith. Before I get started, if you are interested in acquiring a FREE PDF of a cookbook called Kissin' Don't Last, Cookin' Does that the authors at my publishing house put together, drop me a line. Okay. On with the post. Be forewarned, I am a good Grinch. I have had a lot of practice.

Have you ever noticed how the closer it gets to Christmas, and the less you have done toward the big day, the more people you know come out of the woodwork to check on your progress?

Case in point: lady in line at grocery (I will call her Mrs. Elf as she surely must be one of Santa’s helpers)

Elf: Hi there. I see your basket is filled with … oh no, maybe not. Where’s your sugar cookie dough?

Me: Um. I don’t make sugar cookies.

Elf: No? NO! You cannot be a Scrooge! It’s Christmas! Where’s your spirit?

Me: (in my best Garfield voice) I left it at home.

Elf: What? What about eggnog?

I shake my head no. She shakes her head at my dilemma.

I mean why is it that so many people think they have to remind you that you are lacking in the Christmas Spirit department? What’s worse is they usually are all dolled up in their holiday finery complete with jingle bells on their ears or hats or God forbid their shoes.

Usually Mrs. Elf will spend a long time tut-tutting your lack, and begin telling you very smugly how she is all ready for the big day with gifts bought, wrapped, and under the fully decorated tree beside the gaily donned fireplace. Sigh.
I do not down her for her holiday festiveness. I don’t. But I would love it if maybe I didn’t have to be reminded that I am not quite there yet.

I will get there. Probably this weekend. I will be the twinkle twinkle little star of Christmas cheeriness soon. Just let me ease into it, for crying out loud!

I am going to get there. I swear I am. I will donate to a charity. I will deck the halls with boughs of holly. I will kiss someone under a mistletoe and I will be home for Christmas. But first, I have to find my wallet, my brain, and my mace because it is sure that if I meet MR. ELF on this last foray into the countdown to the big day, he will be dressed in a red suit with a white beard and be singing something about his red-nosed reindeer. Saints preserve us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Christmas Presence

When the north wind blows and sleigh bells ring, we know Christmas can’t be too far away. In keeping with the season, I’d like to share a story I wrote last Christmas during my virtual book tour to promote THE DEVIL CAN WAIT. It's not very long, but if you love your Christmas stories with a ghost or two on the side, I invite you to toss another log on the fire and settle into that comfy chair with your mug of hot chocolate and read ...

A Christmas Presence
© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

It was well after midnight before Ted, our two young children, and I returned home from my parents’ Christmas Eve dinner. Outside, a gentle snow drifted to the ground, the air was calm and the night was as peaceful as any greeting card promised this night should be.

Inside our century-old home, Sara and Jimmy, ages five and three, were wound up tighter than a timekeeper’s watch with the prospect of Santa’s impending arrival. I placed the near empty green bean casserole dish I had taken on the counter and tossed my purse onto one of the overstuffed chairs. It landed as gracefully as my husband had when he dropped into his recliner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

“Amanda …”

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

“Yeah, bitter cold and no modern conveniences.”

“Bet they were quaint.”

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

Unsure why that bit of nostalgia hit me just then, I surrendered to my husband’s urging. Christmas or not, my body ached for a few hours of sleep so I raced him into the bedroom, slipped on my night clothes and just as quickly slid under the covers and closed my eyes.

Ted did likewise and for a minute or two a wonderful silence engulfed us. That is, until we heard the pitter patter of footsteps going down the stairs.

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

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

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

“They’re sound asleep.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End

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 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).

Personal site:
Character Blog:  

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seven Steps to Book Promotion

© Maryglenn McCombs 2009 all rights reserved

One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one from Groucho Marx:
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
Granted, the quote combines two of my favorite things—books and dogs—but it’s a great quote. I couldn’t think of a better way to begin my post and this gives me a great chance to invite you to see my beautiful Old English Sheepdog, Garcia, who is prominently featured on my web site

Now speaking of dark… (and yes; I realize that this is an horrific segue way, but I am a PR person and not a writer, so please cut me some slack here!) what I’ve found in over 16 years of working in the book publishing industry, is that lots of times authors are in the dark about how to promote their books.
In a perfect world, all authors world be able to afford to have someone—a publicist—do that work for them, but it’s not a perfect world.
So, if you’re an author and you’re in the dark about how to promote your book the do-it-yourself route, what do you do to get your book reviewed?
Here are seven tips:
Tip #1 Understand that timing is everything.

So much of the PR work on a book is done before a book ever even hits the shelves – virtual shelves or brick-and-mortar shelves – so proper planning is crucial.

Reviews, much like books, don’t happen overnight. Well in advance of your book’s release, start thinking about the types of media outlets you would like to contact for reviews or coverage of your book, such as magazines, newspapers, online outlets, radio, television, blogs, etc. The next step is to come up with a plan.

Magazines, especially those lovely glossy monthly magazines that populate newsstands everywhere, tend to have the longest lead times. For instance, many of those magazines operate on a five-to-six month (or longer) lead time. What this means is that by May, many magazines are looking for Winter holiday ideas, and some are even thinking early Spring of the next year. Consider this when contacting a magazine for an article review or story. Therefore, if you have a book coming out in April, and you start contacting magazines in March, you are probably way too late to get coverage that will line up with your book’s release date.

Trade journals, or those magazines that cater to the book/library trade, also tend to be very long lead, meaning that galleys or advance review copies (ARCs) should be sent to them 4-5 months before the book’s publication date. One thing that is great about trade journals is that most of them, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc., actually post their submission guidelines on their respective web sites and explain what it is they want to receive, and when they want to receive it. How easy is that?

Newspapers/news services tend to be shorter lead, but the larger the outlet, the more lead time you should allow.

Online outlets – blogs, web sites, etc. – are, in general, fairly short-lead. I recommend contacting online outlets about 4-6 weeks in advance of a book’s publication date.

Planning ahead is crucial for PR, especially if you want to do a thorough, comprehensive campaign. Understanding this important component can increase your chances of success in getting coverage of your book. So put together a plan for who you plan to contact, and then put together a timeline for when to contact them.

TIP #2 Read before you write, or call, or send…

Read before you write! Know the person you are pitching, what they do (and don’t) write about, if there is a particular type of book they do or don’t want to read, etc. Read their column, their blog, their site, etc. Don’t be afraid to comment on a story or review of theirs that you particularly enjoyed. And if there’s one with which you didn’t agree, or thought that the reviewer totally missed the point when he/she panned that fabulous book you just read that kept-you-up-at-night/changed-your-life, etc., well, that might not be the best introduction. Scholars differ! However, if you genuinely like the way someone covers books and realistically think there is a chance that he/she might enjoy reading your book, don’t be scared to send an email, or drop them a note, or, if the address is made public and they welcome review copies, send a book.

TIP #3 Know how to follow directions.

Sometimes, reviewers (such as those trade media journals referenced previously) actually tell you how they want to be contacted, and in some cases of people who are willing to consider unsolicited books for review, what they want from you.

Follow their guidelines precisely. What better way to make a great first impression than providing the reviewer or review outlet with exactly what they want, exactly how they want it? Make a great first impression by following their directions, which signals that you have not only taken the time to familiarize yourself with their guidelines, but that you also realize that their guidelines are important and that you both acknowledge and respect that enough to follow to guidelines.

TIP #4 Meet your two new best friends: “please” and “thank you.”

A little bit of polite can go a very long way! Say please and thank you (i.e., would you please consider my book for your magazine/blog/newspaper? And thank you for your time/your consideration.)

No demands here, people! Be polite when you are asking someone to review a book. I know I would be pretty quick to hit the “delete” button if someone send me a demand as opposed to a request.

Be able to take a “no”—or no response—graciously. It’s not personal. I promise. And even, or maybe especially, if a reviewer writes you back and says “thanks, but no thanks,” or “I’m overwhelmed with books right now and not taking on any new books,” please don’t hesitate to thank them again. (Can you all—aka y’all—tell I am Southern yet?) When someone takes the time to respond to me, even if it’s not the response I was hoping for, I can’t resist the urge to thank them for their time. I really do appreciate it. And yes, I understand that most people are drowning in email and that just adds one more email to their bulging inbox, but really: what’s wrong with saying “I appreciate your time,” or “I completely understand,” or “Thank you for the response,” or “have a great day or week or weekend” or something along those lines? Beats the heck out of having someone think their response ruined my day and I retreated to a corner of my office to sulk. Right?

TIP #5 Be accommodating!

Does a reviewer need an interview within the hour? Do everything in your power to accommodate the request.

Does he or she need to have the book by tomorrow? Overnight it if finances permit.

Does he or she need a digital file of cover art, or an author photo? Send it promptly.

Be helpful, be accommodating, and follow through.

TIP #6 Fill requests promptly.

When a reviewer asks for a copy of the book, send it promptly. This is another way to make a great first impression.

If you’ve been asked to guest post on a blog, or take part in an interview, whatever you do, do it, and meet the deadline. There is nothing worse than having a blogger or reviewer plan around a contribution that never comes in, or comes in too late to be of any use. It’s rude, it’s annoying, and it will probably guarantee that the blogger or reviewer will not want to work with you again.

And if you do guest blog, please remember that your work isn’t over once you submit the post. Check the blog regularly for any reader comments on your contribution and respond. This is a great opportunity to interact with people who are reading your article or contribution or interview. Take advantage of that opportunity!

TIP # 7 Don’t forget about the reviewer after you get a review.

Once a reviewer does review your book, or features a guest post from you on his or her blog, follow up to say “thank you.” And yes – even if it is a less-than-stellar review, a note of thanks is still appropriate. Let people know you appreciate what they’ve done for you, and the time they’ve spent on your behalf. They’ll remember you for that, which may help open the door when you contact them about your next book.

If there are certain outlets where you’re expecting or hoping for a review, read them regularly. Reviewers don’t always send reviews when they are complete, so do your part by keeping up with the places that may review your book.

With that, I’ll leave you with three final pieces of advice:
  • Do not be afraid to take chances when it comes to promoting your book. Sometimes you don’t know till you ask!
  • Do not get discouraged if the process of getting reviews takes time.
  • Most importantly, enjoy the process. As an author, you’re in an exciting and enviable position. I wish you all the best!

About the author:
Maryglenn McCombs, a 1993 graduate of Vanderbilt University, has been actively working in the book publishing industry for over 10 years. During that time she has been involved with literally hundreds of books.

Because of her extensive experience in the industry, Maryglenn has served as a guest lecturer for publishing workshops, conferences and events, including serving as a panelist for the Southern Festival of Books. She is a member of the Publishers Association of the South (PAS) and Publishers Marketing Association (PMA).

Her interests include volunteering with the Nashville Humane Association, reading, traveling and cooking. As a former book publisher, Maryglenn has recently traded making books for “making book” as she has begun playing bridge on a regular basis.

A native of South Central Kentucky, Maryglenn currently lives in Nashville with her husband, Tim and their Old English Sheepdog, Garcia.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

LeGarde Newsletter - Winter, 2009

Hello, friends.

In our family, we’ve always managed to get through the traumas and tears by holding on to each other and praying. A lot. My own philosophy, as you’ve heard many times, is to “take pleasure in the little things,” and most of the time it works pretty well. Since I’ve been laid off, (and trying to stem the tide of worries about finding a job), I inhaled the fragrance of baby Isabella’s curly blond hair, took extra hugs from my grandsons Julian and Gordie, reveled in my gardens, fixed a ton of stuff around the house, and allowed myself the pure pleasure of writing like a madman for eight months. With two more books under my belt, I thought I'd managed to handle the stress fairly well. (hint: whenever you start to get too pleased with yourself, hold on. Life is about to change!)

And so my life took a plunge. Daughter Jenn arrived at our home last Saturday with a fever of 104, dizzy, and delirious. We put her to bed, gave her some Advil , and watched her. She’d had some vomiting and diarrhea in the morning. (I know, too much information, but it's important that you recognize the symptoms!) We got the fever down to 103.5, and put her to bed for a good night’s sleep. We all thought it was the flu, and that we’d have to ride it out.

The next morning, her fever was 105.3. Alarm bells triggered in my head – loudly. I got her to the ER at 9:30 that morning, much against her fervent desire to stay home in bed and nurse whatever it was in peace and quiet.

To make a long story short, Jenn had toxic shock syndrome (which men and menopausal women can get, too, by the way). Her BP was extremely low when we got to the ER (77 over 39) and we later found out she was septic, which means her blood was infected. This all happened in less than 24 hours. After a week of touch and go, they finally isolated the bacteria (Orsa) that invaded her body, and saved her. Additional symptoms were a bright red itchy rash on day 2, swollen fingers, toes, and face, disorientation, and severe head pain. I found out yesterday (when we brought her home), that if we’d arrived one HOUR later, she likely wouldn’t have made it.

My dear daughter came home today. She’s thin and pale and exhausted, but she’s alive.

So this holiday season I beg of you all – if you have any symptoms at all like those mentioned above, get to the ER immediately. If you’re wrong and it’s “just the flu,” so be it. But at least you’ll have a fighting chance.

Toxic shock syndrome is rare – most of the docs hadn’t seen it but once or twice in their lives. But it’s usually deadly, because people think it will run its course.

On the job front... ahem. Yes. The illusive job quest. While I searched all spring, summer, and fall for work in the engineering field, I found... nothing. 

The loss of self-image was salvaged only by my life as a writer, by my amazing readers and their loving comments, and by my family and friends. But the old ego did take a tremendous blow, particularly when months and months passed with no return calls for jobs I’d applied for and no prospects knocking on the proverbial door.

Writing provides a nice subsidy, but it isn’t enough to survive on – yet. Until then, I need a “day” job that will cushion us until LeGarde Mysteries (or one of its spinoffs!) hits the best seller list! So, I’ve taken life by its horns and will go back to earn a masters degree in either social work or mental health counseling. I know, this is a far cry from engineering, but helping people through therapy is something I’ve always been drawn to, and the idea of dealing with people all day instead of machines is intensely appealing. It will mean taking more than half of our life savings to accomplish, but it’s an investment in our future where nothing else appears to be on the horizon. Some day I hope to hang out a shingle for my private practice.

Have no fear, I will continue to write like the wind and provide you with many more years of entertainment, God willing. 

Book News:

Mazurka was officially released in Sept. 2009, and was just submitted by my publisher to the esteemed “Edgar Awards.” I’m thrilled that Lida Quillen believes in my work. Meanwhile, I’ve had scores of very generous and validating reviews, and am ever grateful for you, my readers, and your continued support.

Firesong: an unholy grave, was accepted for publication and is slated for late summer next year.

Healey’s Cave (formerly “The Green Marble”), will be released in late spring 2010, and will kick off the “Moore Mystery” series. Its two sequels, One Potato, Blue Potato, and For Keeps, will be offered one per year after that.

I have lots of books to go back to and refurbish before subbing to my publisher, including the follow-ons to Firesong – Virtuoso, Portamento, Counterpoint, Lady Blues, and Don’t Let the Wind Catch You. That work is more like drudgery, but I know it’s important to polish these manuscripts and get them in the queue.

I’ve just started submitting For the Birds, the standalone paranormal mystery set in the Adirondack Mountains, to big NYC agents. No bites yet, but one must be extremely patient and persevere in this soft publishing market. Wish me luck!

I know it’s a little late (the last two weeks have been hell), but if you’d like to order any of the four LeGarde Mysteries for Christmas, I’ll give you a break on the price and am offering free shipping. Double Forte’ and Upstaged trade paperbacks are twenty bucks each, and Tremolo and Mazurka are fifteen each. Just email me at with the book title(s), to whom you want them inscribed, and your address. Send a check made out to Aaron Lazar at 5647 Groveland Hill Road, Geneseo, NY 14454 for payment. I’ll ship them out immediately so you can have them for Christmas. ;o)

Here's another very classy Christmas idea. Give someone a set of Young Living Essential Oils for the holidays.

I’ve become besotted with therapeutic grade essential oils, so much so that I’ve signed up to become a distributor.These oils (light and not sticky) are produced from plants, trees, shrubs, etc. and are distilled in an ancient, time-honored process. They're grown organically on Dr. Gary Young's four farms in Ecuador, Provence, Utah, and Idaho under stringent quality control processes.


Basic oils such as peppermint, lemon, frankincense, lavender, eucalyptus, spruce, etc. etc have changed our lives. My family and friends are finding health and emotional benefits galore, and I’m so stuck on them that I can’t imagine life without my “oils.” Tons of hospitals now use them in conjunction with traditional meds to treat patients and to sanitize their facilities.

If you’d like to read about my “oil” stories (true testaments to the benefits I’ve seen in person), check out my “Esentially Yours” oil blog at : You can also read about and order the oils for Christmas at my official website: (If you sign up as a distributor, you can buy wholesale for 24% off.)

The bottom line is we’re finding relief for headaches, muscle aches, sore body parts, skin problems, cold sores, mood lifters, stress relief, and so much more, including bumping up our immunity to disease using pure and natural products the Lord put on this earth. I don’t want to spend too much time in this newsletter raving about them, but needless to say I also now have an “oils” newsletter which I’d love to send you if you’re interested. Just email me and I’ll add you to the list. ;o)

And yes, I'm planning a whole book revolving around essential oils - a sequel to For the Birds that will involve ancient Egyptian rites and biblical oils - it promises to be a blast.


Dr. Ni Radio Show:Poetry, Prose and Everything Goes     December 14, 4PM EST 

Pioneer Librarian Annual Meeting, Canandaigua, NY
December 15, 10:30 AM

Kim Smith Radio Show    Introducing Writers
December 17th 8:30 PM EST

Thank you all for your support throughout the year. Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!