Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Long Lost Art of Letter Writing (on paper!)

copyright aaron paul lazar, 2010

Most of us correspond daily with email. When you take a moment to slow down and examine your email, you may realize you write and receive dozens per day. Some days it’s more, but if we go away for a week or get caught up in life away from the Internet for a while, we’re often buried.

Sound familiar?

How long has it been since you wrote a real live honest to goodness paper letter? On stationary, for that matter? I hadn’t even sent Christmas cards in eons, since life got crazy and I could quickly dash off an e-card or a few lines of Christmas cheer with a bright email. So much simpler, right?

Email became so convenient that we all sneered at snail mail and used to roll our eyes when some venture required us to actually print out a letter and affix a (way too expensive) stamp to it.

But since I got my new wireless printer, packs of fancy paper and envelopes, and started applying for colleges and new agents all at the same time, I got into the groove of typing out envelopes (I never could figure out how to do that until now, LOL!) and letters on nice stationary. Damn, they look so good on that pale blue fancy parchment paper.

Strangely enough, I found the exercise pleasant. There was something satisfying about licking the stamp and putting it in the mailbox. I started to wonder if I was regressing to my youth, because I used to correspond with people all the time. When I left home to move to the Finger Lakes region of New York, I wrote long newsy letters to my grandparents back on the east coast. I’d enclose snapshots (another thing I haven’t ordered in ages! Must do that!) and enjoyed the process of sitting out under a big old maple tree during my lunch breaks at work, and penning many pages about our triumphs and traumas. My handwriting has gone to hell in a hand basket since then, probably because I don’t practice any more. It used to be quite elegant, something like the Renaissance man I’m supposed to be should have in his arsenal of skills. You know, drawing, piano, gardening, photography, poetry, and nice handwriting. Ha.

Since I’ve had a little more time on my hands this year (in starts and spurts), I’ve taken the time to print out well crafted letters to friends I haven’t seen in ages to reconnect with them. My ex-boss from Kodak, a fellow writer who’s in the hospital, my old pal from college… it felt good to create a letter you can touch and feel and save in a drawer. Know what I mean?

When people send me thank you cards – something that’s really almost a lost art, I think – I feel so special! After a library event or book club appearance, I’ve often received these colorful notes from my readers. You know what? It feels great.

I wonder, have you taken the time to pen a handwritten note lately?

Do you notice how much more casual we are in our emails compared to when we type them to print out or write them longhand? We’ve gotten more and more lax in our grammar, punctuation, and now the shortcuts are so common that even in this article I’ve used “LOL”, because I think there are just a handful of people out there who don’t know it means Laughing Out Loud. It’s so engrained now, I sometimes find myself tempted to use it in my writing, which is absurd, of course.

If you can find a spare moment this weekend, go dig up some of your old cards or stationary, and pen a thoughtful note to someone you’ve let drift out of your life. It’ll make you feel real good. And I’ll bet it will make your friend feel even better.


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and watch for his upcoming release, HEALEY’S CAVE, coming in 2010.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Changing Market of Ebooks

© Janie Franz 2010 all rights reserved

Traditional publishing like the music industry has experienced a paradigm shift. For nearly two decades, I’ve watched the music industry still try to lure young artists with the promise of a record deal, as if it were an ascension into music heaven. I have seen that fluffy dream of a book deal create a sparkle in the eyes of new writers, too. But somewhere along the road, musicians learned that when the golden record contract was in their hands, there were restrictions of ownership and what they could produce, at the worst end of the spectrum. On the other end of the spectrum, there was no budget and the artist still had to promote his or her work on the road, even buying their own advertising and promotional collateral.

As technology advanced, musicians, including Arlo Guthrie in the mid-1980s, decided to produce their own works and sometimes those of other artists, knowing that they would still need to do their own marketing and promotion, but they got a bigger share of the revenues. Studio time was still expensive, though some artists like Kyle Cook of Matchbox Twenty created their own studios, building them with earnings from their music careers. Soon, however, smaller independent studios emerged and smaller independent labels appeared. Though some young musicians still are searching for their record deal in the sky, the independent music scene has thrived and exists because of the internet and fanbase building it has encourage.

This same scenario is happening in the publishing industry. Technology first sprouted POD (print on demand) publishers and then a variety of epublishing scenarios. But the biggest technological development that is impacting traditional print publishing is the ebook. They’ve been around for at least two decades in one form or another, but as print sales slowed for a variety of reasons, ebooks sales increased astronomically.

Last year, CBS News reported that about 2 billion print books were sold in the US, but that was down 5 percent from 2008 and was expected to drop 2 percent more this year. Four years ago, when print sales were higher, traditional publishing made between $25 billion and $30 billion a year, as was reported by Mark R. Nelson in EDUCAUSE Review in 2008.

Ebook sales have reflected that they are not a novelty anymore, probably due to the new user-friendly readers produced by Sony and Barnes and Noble that are competing with Amazon’s Kindle. Ebook sales have soared from $5.8 million in 2002 to $20 million in 2006 (Nelson, 2008). Last year alone, CBS News reported that there was $150 million in ebook sales, and it is supposed to be a billion dollar business by 2012. In 2008, Nelson estimated $3 to $5 billion in ebook sales by 2012.

Sarah Rotman Epps and James McQuivey of Forrester Research predicted in December of last year that ebook sales for 2010 would reach $500 million in the US. So, it is not a far leap to see billions of dollars in sales two years later.

Ebooks have even infiltrated higher education with textbooks slowly being published in ebook formats as well as magazines and newspapers offering eformat subscriptions. Though a lot of this material was originally read on a computer screen, that is changing. Not only are ebooks read on digital readers but also sent to iPods and cellphones and various other small digital devices.

Today’s young people have been described as “digital natives” while those of us over 40 are considered “digital immigrants.” Digital savvy users are looking for more convenient ways to get news, information, and pleasure reading.

Writer Barbara Ehrentreu reports: “Random House is creating free customized apps for IPhones allowing some best selling authors to connect with their fans and their fans to connect with them. The apps will let fans ‘preview books, access bonus content, interact with other fans, check upcoming author appearances, listen to audiobook clips, and watch author videos and book trailers.’” This is unprecedented communication between author and reader.

With the promise of ebook readers coming in color and with a load of apps, ebook sales will continue to soar. And traditional publishers like major record labels will have to adjust to this new medium or die the death of an aging dinosaur.

Some of the major publishing houses are responding by offering agency pricing to ebook retailers, which gives the retailer 70 percent of the sales while the publisher takes 30 percent. This is being done so that publishers can offer books at prices they think are fairer to the author. Since some of these publishers offer their authors 30 percent royalty, they are not making a dime on ebook sales. Hatchette Books is one such publisher. And they are doing this not with older titles, as you might expect, but releasing ebooks concurrently with print versions. This gets more book in readers hands than they could have previously. This move is not setting with Amazon, the ebook retail giant who has previously offered sales conditions and pricing that left many authors with fewer royalties.

This also means that many small publishers can now offer more opportunities for new authors like me and still compete on an equal footing with publishing giants. Finally, the publishing industry has recognized this technological paradigm shift and is reacting in ways that are good for consumers and for authors as well.

About the author:

Janie Franz, author of "THE BOWDANCER" still calls herself a Southerner (she was born in Tennessee) though she has spent more than half her life living in North Dakota. She holds a degree in anthropology and has an unquenchable curiosity, which may explain the broadness of her journalism credits that include regional, national, and international publications. She has co-written two books with Texas wedding DJ, Bill Cox (The Ultimate Wedding Ceremony Book and The Ultimate Wedding Reception Book), and has published a writing manual, Freelance Writing: It’s a Business, Stupid! She is also a prolific book and music reviewer, and runs her own online music publication, Refrain Magazine.

She has been a radio announcer, a booking agent for a groove/funk band, and a yoga/relaxation instructor. She has been happily married to a singer/songwriter for almost four decades. They have a daughter who is a fiber artist and is married to an animator, and a son who is the executive chef of The Toasted Frog, a high-end martini bistro, and who plays drums and blues harmonica with local bands. The Bowdancer is her first published work of fiction.

Janie Franz is currrently on a virtual book tour through Novel Works. To learn more about her and her writing go to:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writing Action Scenes

by Kim Smith

Planning on writing a suspense novel? How about a fast-paced thriller? No matter if it is one of these or just a plain old romance, you should plan on getting some action in your fiction. Drama, tension, and action will keep your reader reading all the way to the end.

How can you figure out action and what it is? Pick a book out of the shelf in your house and find the place in the book that made you read faster. What did they do style-wise that made you read in a hurry?

My guess is, several things including but not limited to :
1. Short choppy sentence structure
2. Heavy dose of active verbs
3. Build up of the scene with tension

These things make the action scenes read snappy and quick and make our hearts race a little until we get to the resolution of either the scene or the whole story. Don’t forget to make sure your character in the midst of the action scene is performing acts that are plausible and possible. Can’t have a guy landing a punch and pulling out his gun at the same time!

Another great way to build action in your book is to use all the senses. What do they smell? Blood? Sweat? What do they hear? Slaps? Thuds? What about taste? Yes, in all things bring taste in! He could taste his own sweat where it runs into his mouth from the sides of his face if he is bending down, face toward the ground. He could taste blood. He could taste – well, you get the point. And so on.

One little note, don’t keep stuffing action scenes in your book with no build up and especially with no let down. We all need a breather in there. Imagine watching a ramped up version of the hot television series 24 with no commercials!! It’s very exhausting with no break from the tension, so be kind to your reader.

One more thing, it helps to have a character that fits the bill for action. A wimpy “fainting Violet” will never do in an action scene. A hard-nosed kick-butt hero or heroine will surely make that tension more believable.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Copper Clapper Caper

Every once in a while, we just have to kick back and have a little fun.  For those who remember Jack Webb from the TV series, "Dragnet" and those great dialogues on the Johnny Carson Show, enjoy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How to Sell Books By the Truckload

(Please note: The following is not actual advice. This is completely tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic, and written because I am feeling sarcastic today. The author of the following post does not actually bear any ill will toward any of the authors who may or may not be inferred through the following piece. The author of this post actually admires many of them, though she will not say which ones.)

Are you thinking about becoming an author? Do you want your name splashed all over newspapers, magazines and the Internet? Do you dream of seeing people reading your books in cafes, on subways, and in airports? Check out these tried-and-true methods of becoming a rich and famous author!

* Tackle the central tenets and long-held beliefs of a huge, powerful and influential institution and create a fictionalized account of corruption and buried secrets, thereby angering that institution and getting its administration to ban your book, prompting its members to buy it and see what the fuss is all about.

* Get a head start: write a novel when you're still a teenager, while your parents own and operate a publishing company, and get them to cart you around selling your book.

* Choose a genre and subject about which you know nothing, thereby allowing you to ignore all the established lore and come up with something completely "original, fresh and different" (and sparkly). Target teenage girls by making your main character an empty shell upon which they can project.

* Instead of writing your own books, become an idea person who dictates outlines to a team of co-writers, therefore allowing you to produce 9 novels every year. Make sure to keep your chapters ridiculously short (this creates "page-turners"). Produce television commercials, and buy a little $100 million shack in Florida.

* Change your legal name to Stephen King. Publish your grocery list.

* Sell your soul to Satan.

* Die before your book is released.

Any of these things will virtually guarantee wild authorial success!

(Alternately, you could - oh, I don't know - work your butt off, write a great book, and hope for the best...)

This message is brought to you by People Who Are Sick And Tired Of Ridiculous "Out Of The Box, It Worked For So-and-So" Crap Masquerading As Sound Advice. No authors or furry animals were harmed in the creation of this message. Please tip your waitstaff. Have a nice day.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review for The Farringford Cadenza, by Robert D. Sutherland (review by Aaron Lazar)

Author:   Robert D. Sutherland
Publisher:   The Pikestaff Press
Genre: Mystery, 523 pages
Publisher's Address: PO Box 127, Normal, Illinois 61761
ISBN number:  978-0-936044-08-8
Price: $15.95
Publisher website address:
Author’s personal website:
Mystery-writing blog:

“October 18, 1947

As the train slows to a crawl for its scheduled stop at Bristow,Pennsylvania, its cars glide like dark coffins past the lights spaced evenly on poles along the station platform. Eight coaches back from the locomotive, the window of a particular sleeping compartment presents a blank and staring eye to the lights as they tick rhythmically past. Each, in its turn, briefly illuminates the table just inside the window—the highball glasses and overflowing ashtray— the formal dress-suit, with tailed coat, hanging on the wall— the rumpled bed—the body on the bed.

When the train has chuffed to a halt with a rumbling shudder and hissing of steam, a light-pole stands directly opposite the window. Should anyone look in—that porter, say, trundling past with his baggage cart—he’d see, starkly displayed among the tangled bedclothes, a man of middle-age—lean, angular, face-up and stretched full-length in striped pajamas. Left arm bent across the chest; right flung far aside to hang in space. Dark chestnut hair just slightly streaked with gray. Face like putty, gone to sag; backward tilted, mouth agape; eyes slitted upward with a jellied stare. 

A closer look: the pajama shirt is wrongly buttoned, the trousers twisted awkwardly askew and backside front.

The Farringford Cadenza is evocative of a deliciously complex British mystery, underpinned with American sass and laced with luscious musical themes. When a rare six-minute piano composition by musical genius Charles Philip Farringford disappears, a nut and shell game extraordinaire begins. After decades of mystery, like a leaf flitting on a playful breeze, the cadenza appears in a piano bench in a dusty old shop, only to be stolen, re-stolen, diverted, hidden, passed around, stolen again, and disappeared, time and time again. Just when you think you know which shell the cadenza is under, the scales tip and the hunt begins anew.

When American composer Charles Farringford dies in bed on a train bound for New York City in 1947, he’s discovered dressed with his pajama pants on backwards and his top buttoned wrong. This untimely death follows three rare performances of the hand-written piano cadenza, integral to the fourth movement of Farringford’s Fifth Concerto. Performed only to three audiences whose lives were literally changed by the legendary music, powerful enough to bestow stallion-like powers on the impotent, to haunt the lives of those affected, to cause rare collectors to salivate and offer millions for its return, the music disappears on the day the beloved composer dies, only to turn up over thirty-four years later in Baltimore.

With the press agog and musicians stirred up all over the world, music lovers prepare to be thrilled by the cadenza. This life-changing music that propelled listeners to states of rapture when first heard in 1947 is scheduled to be delivered to Lunner and Dinch, the publishers of the original Concerto. The music went to press without the cadenza, but was performed by pianists who’ve written their own interpretation of the missing movement. But the mystical music is not yet to be heard by the public, for bodies begin to drop with an alarming rate and the cadenza once again disappears.

Detective N. F. Trntl (yes, there are no vowels in her last name), a tough, clever, persistent investigator who can foil the worst villain, is hired by Farringford’s family and Lunner and Dinch to find the cadenza and bring it home. She and her assistant, Carol, begin a series of misadventures that have them bouncing between Baltimore and New York, pursued by the Mob and rubbing shoulders with the elite, including spunky and talented pianist Rosamond Foxe, who is lusted after by the rich and powerful Victor Zyzynski and who also is intricately and intimately woven into this delightful mystery. I’ll not spoil the plot, but the finale of this masterful novel spirals to a page turning end, moving from St. Croix to New York City, and kept this reviewer up into the wee hours of the morning.

Sutherland’s style is professional and polished, his wit delightful, but what I found most intriguing were his character descriptions. For example:

“He was a wizened gnome, extremely short, with an exceedingly thin and pointed nose, the skin of his face cross-hatched with deep lines and creases. Behind rimless lenses, steel-blue eyes stared unblinking; the sphincter of his mouth was a tight pucker. On the table before him, his hands rested plump and pawlike, corrugated with prominent blue veins and freckled with age spots. His nails glistened as if painted with clear lacquer.”

And this:

“Fingers was a squat, burly man with large ears, ponderous jowls road-mapped with crimson capillaries, and restless belly-button eyes.”

If you like twists and turns, if you’ve ever been emotionally stirred by music, if you love an intellectual chuckle, or if you’re a fan of page-turning chase scenes, you’ll find The Farringford Cadenza a delightful read.
Robert D. Sutherland


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for his upcoming release, HEALEY’S CAVE, coming in 2010.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Edumacation for 'Riters

When I was just starting this writing life, I took classes. I bought books, and I took classes. I went to seminars, bought books, and took classes. I... well, you get the picture.

It never hurts to expand your horizons. In fact, I am going to take an online class very soon just to keep my skills brushed up. Gathering info from others who have good ideas for this lonely, writing journey is always a good idea.

Some of my online friendships are from the times I spent expanding my horizons and learning about the craft of writing. My mama always said education is one thing no man can take from you. See? Mama is always right!

If you are interested in taking some classes for a really reasonable fee, check out the place I am planning on taking from.

I found out about these from my Facebook friend, Beth Barany. She is teaching the class I am taking in March. Thanks Beth!

Good luck!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Far Will You Go To Research Your Next Novel?

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

When I think of research, I think of interviews with professionals in the field, scouring the pages of books and journals, and doing more than a few Google searches to find what I need.

Today I'd like to share a bit about a fellow author and friend, David L. Robbins, author of nine historic suspense novels. His latest, BROKEN JEWEL, was released on November 9, 2009. 

I recently received the following e-mail from David (reprinted here with permission) in which he shares a bit about his next novel, THE DEVIL'S WATERS, and his form of research--the kind of trip he embarks on to research all of his works.  Check out some of his photos from other trips on his website!

My thoughts and prayers are with him for safe travels.


On February 24th, I’ll be heading for Africa, to research my upcoming novel THE DEVIL'S WATERS. This will be a contemporary swashbuckler set in the waters around the Horn of Africa, plied by a significant fraction of the world’s cargo shipping, and Somali pirates.

My research trip will take me from Malta, through Suez, south along the Red Sea, then out into the Gulf of Aden, north to Dubai. These are pirate waters. I will be on the cargo freighter CMA CGM Wagner (;  as a passenger. I’ll be taking notes for the book, asking questions, imagining scenes and characters. After that, I’ll spend a week in Djibouti, working with an elite Air Force unit, the PJ’s (pararescue jumpers). They’ll be the heroes of the novel.

And I will be Tweeting and blogging.

For THE DEVIL'S WATERS, I intend to record the entire creation of the book, from my initial research and travel all the way through completion. There will be daily updates of my progress, bibliographies of source material, and once I start writing in April, insights into the development of the pages themselves.

For those of you good folks who are fans and supporters of my work, and for the aspiring writers in the crowd, I intend to make this journey with you alongside as best I can. My hope is that you’ll enjoy the experience, learn something, and tell others you think might find this instructive or even fun. For me, I’ll have the thrill (fingers crossed) and support of taking a community of interested readers and writers along for what is always a daunting challenge, the crafting of a novel.

You can find my updates on Twitter at (;  and on Facebook at the new David L. Robbins Fan Page (  

This is all new for me, and exciting. I’ll try not to get kidnapped along the way.

See you online. Thanks, and take care.

Best regards,

David R.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

E-book Evolution Continues

In further growing pain style news for New York publishing, more big publishers move toward the agency model for e-books - this is the sales shift I mentioned in previous posts, first adopted by Macmillan, in which publishers sell e-books to retailers at a 70-30 profit split (that's 70 percent for the retailers, 30 percent for the publishers), under the condition that the publisher sets the retail price at which the e-books are sold.

However, not all major publishers (and they're not naming names) are adopting the agency model. And the verdict still isn't in whether this shift (or lack of shift) is beneficial to the publishing industry in general.

And in who-else-is-tired-of-the-revolution-and-wants-some-laughs news, here are some funnies stolen from agent Kristin Nelson's blog:

Church Bulletin Bloopers - the following announcements have appeared in church bulletins and newsletters across the country. Mistakes, unfortunate wording and all.

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
The sermon this morning: 'Jesus Walks on the Water.' The sermon tonight: 'Searching for Jesus.'
Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say 'Hell' to someone who doesn't care much about you.
Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.
Miss Charlene Mason sang 'I will not pass this way again,' giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow..
At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered..
The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.
Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. Is done.
The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance..
The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last Sunday: 'I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours.

And here's a little something I ran across while out and about the other day - a bumper sticker, which I now want for my car:

He was behind the couch the whole time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Weird writing/book news

Didja hear the one about the teenager who wrote a three volume novel on a cellphone? It's true!

Or how about Derek Sivers post telling Kurt Vonnegut's explanation about why we are trying to turn our lives into a fairytale?

Finally, if you are just sick of printed books, and think they all need to be turned into something besides an object of literary admiration, check out 9 ways to turn old books into something else

There you have it, ladies and gents. There is a lot of weird writing/book news for you today. And I will end with a quote, very timely, if I do say so.

The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp.
Terry Pratchett

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bopping Around the Internet

Sometimes writers have to (gasp!) do things that aren't writing. Today is one of those days for me. So, I'm giving away some books!

I'll be chatting all day at Lena Matthews' forum here, and giving away a choice of three different novels:

Lena Matthews' group (you have to join to comment, but it's auto-approval membership)

And I'm guest blogging over at You Gotta Read, with a giveaway copy of Broken Angel for a commenter (the YGR post is a reprint of a fun bit I did here on MB4 a while back, but I still get a kick out of it :-):

You Gotta Read Guests

Have a great week, y'all!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oh, My!

Thanks to Pat Brown, author of L. A. Boneyard for sharing these humorous answers taken from high school exams. And you thought kids didn't learn anything in school.

* Q. Define the first person.
   A. Adam.

* Punctuate means to make a hole in the tyre of a bicycle.

* Metaphor: A thing you shout through.

* Simile: A picturesque way of saying what you really mean, such as calling your mother an old trout.

* The feminine of Bull:  Mrs Bull.

* The parts of speech: Lungs and air.

* Verb: Something to eat.

* Adverb: The horses run fastly. This is an adverb.

* Abstract noun: Something you can’t see when you are looking at it.

* Abstract noun: The name of something which has no existence, as goodness.

* Abstract noun: Something we can think of but cannot feel — as a red-hot poker.

* Example of a collective noun: A flock of cattle.

* Example of a collective noun: A garbage can.

* Conjunction: The place where 2 railway lines meet.

* Imperfect tense: Used in France to express a future action in past time which does not take place at all.

* All sentences are either simple or confound.

* Passive voice:
Q. Correct the sentence — “It was me that has broken the window”.
A. “It wasn’t me that has broken the window”.

* Spelling (an English teacher’s comment on a student’s essay): "A dictionery would solve your spelling problems." (In case you missed it, dictionary is spelled wrong)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Writing with Kids

copyright 2010, aaron paul lazar

On MB4 we’ve written hundreds of articles about the craft of writing, the world of publishing, the aching sense of loneliness we sometimes endure as solitary artists, and so many more writing life topics… But I don’t think we’ve ever written about children and their heads-full-of-stories.

I’m going to admit something to you. I’m an old fuddy duddy. At least when it comes to kids and their upbringing. If you’ve read any of my “slice of life” articles where I share stories about my grandkids, you already know that I believe kids should be outside, playing. Simply playing. They should be using their imaginations, climbing trees, picking wild blackberries, throwing balls, and running. Lots of running is important.  

My childhood was full of those activities and more. I was lucky enough to have an old chestnut gelding, and we roamed the woods and fields alone and with friends for most of my young years.

So, here it is: winter 2010, we STILL have no snow to frolic in, and I see my grandsons playing this godawful Xbox 360 (or whatever the heck it’s called!). So, I get crazy. I hate seeing them pretending to drive, bomb, kick, hit, stab or whatever it is those stupid games allow them to do. I REALLY hate it. But they aren’t mine to raise (not 100%, anyway, LOL) and I have to tolerate some of the stuff that comes with their generation.

This week, however, I decided to lure them away with the idea of making a book together. Julian helped me with chapter 1 and part of chapter 2; Gordie took over midway through chapter 2, and then it snowballed. I typed and helped them by asking questions like, “and what did they see in the green puddle?” and “what did the billy goat say to the boy?” etc. Each boy wanted to write a chapter every night. We got up to chapter four, and then they had to leave to go to their daddy’s house. We’ll add more next week when they come back. They drew pictures on the computer, and we printed them out to use in our “book.” We made four copies of it for various members of the family, and they erupted in peals of laughter every time a new victim read the story.

I can’t tell you how much fun it was, but thought for a lark I’d share some of our unedited creations below. Now, if we were writing this for a real storybook, I might have jumped in more and suggested some funny twists. But really, it was funny enough to see what came out of their little boy minds. I even left in all the exclamation marks that I HAD to include because of how they yelled out the sentences with such excitement on their faces. ;o) I had a blast, and hope you’ll get a kick out of it, too.

Billy and His Friends, by Julian and Gordon Martin

Chapter One

Billy was walking down the street one day. He saw a green puddle, and he jumped in it! The puddle went all the way to Chinatown. Billy got hungry, and ate all of the eggrolls in Chinatown, ‘cause he was so hungry!

His tummy got so big, it was as big as a pumpkin house. Then he got very sleepy, and fell asleep in the grass on the side of the road.

A billy goat woke him up and said, “Will you be my friend, Billy?”

Billy said, “Sure! But what’s your name?”

“My name is Billy Goat Filly.”

“We have the same name!”

“Yes, but you can call me Billy Goat.”

Along came a brown horse, named Connie. She nickered and stood beside them. On her head was a horsefly named Goofy. Goofy had a very large nose, and she honked loudly when she blew it.

“Honk! Honk!” said Goofy.

“Do you have a cold, Goofy?” asked Billy.

Goofy said, “No, it’s just my big nose.”

Billy and Billy Goat wanted a ride on Connie’s back. Billy asked, “Can we have a ride on you?”

Connie said, “No goat is going to ride me. Billy Goat is too big. But you can have a ride, Billy.”

Billy hopped on her back and they cantered away to the land of giant gumdrops that looked like hills. Purple, orange, yellow, green, pink, and red candies glowed at night. Billy ate so much candy, he got a tummy ache. The other animals helped him with his stomachache by giving him Tums and rubbing lavender, ginger, and peppermint oils on him.

They traveled a long purple road through the candy forest to the land of teensy tiny babies. Babies crawled everywhere, crying “Mama!” and “Papa!” and “Daddy!” and “Gordie!” and “Gramma!” and “Julian!” 

Chapter Two

Billy, Billy Goat, Connie, and Goofy, all made bottles for the babies with strawberry milk inside. The babies drank it for nineteen hours. Then they slept for a long time.

Billy got back on Connie, and Goofy landed on Billy Goat for a ride. They headed across the river to the land of the blue herons. One hundred herons were flying above them and they went down and landed on a blue pond with fish inside and they ate the fish, because they love fish! 

Billy, Connie, Goofy, and Billy Goat, went on a purple boat that was really super big! It had a living room, bedroom, kitchen, dining room, and robots in it! And sometimes the silly robots danced on the deck! They sang “Chaka WEE!” and “Mmm mmm MMM mmm” and “Tikka weowww.” Suddenly, they all looked up and saw giant yellow birds flying down, trying to get the robots into the water because they were trying to hurt the people and animals on the boat!

The animals and Billy tried to swim to shore, because the boat was sinking! They almost made it to beach, then the huge wave pushed them onto the sand.

Chapter Three

When they all reached the shore, a big wave came and pushed them into a tree. They thought it tickled! It was so big, it pushed them up to the leaves! They took all of the other trees, cut them up, and made a big treehouse so they could live there!

They made swings so they could jump in the water and swim! Even Connie swam, with Goofy flying in circles over their heads to make them spin around and get dizzy. When they were hungry, they swam to shore and ran to MacDonalds, because they were SO hungry, they wanted to eat fries and hamburgers. They wanted to drink Mountain Dew, but a big angel came down from the sky and said, “Do not drink the Mountain Dew, it is full of caffeine! And it’s not good for children.” They listened, but they didn’t want to listen, so they secretly drank the Mountain Dew.

Then, they were WILD from the caffeine. So wild, they accidentally ran into the angel, and knocked her down! They helped her by giving her Mountain Dew to drink, and now SHE was wild! She flew around in crazy circles, fast as an airplane speed limit.

They punched themselves into the sky and landed at Chuckie Cheeses, where they played video games. Connie didn’t have fingers, she had hooves, so she used her teeth to play the games. Billy played the shooting game, and he got a million trillion billion tickets. Then, they got homesick, and wanted to go back to their treehouse.

When the got home, they found Santa Claus in their treehouse!

Billy said, “Santa!” and he hugged him.

Santa said, “Billy! I need your help! I have a problem!”

Billy Goat, Connie, and Goofy asked, “What is it?”

Santa said, “I can’t figure out what present goes to who!”

The Angel said, “to whom!” (okay, so I added this line… hee hee)

They all laughed.

Santa sat down in the corner and cried. He was so tired and sleepy. He fell fast asleep.

While he was sleeping, they all took the presents and opened them and kept them.

Chapter Four

After Santa slept for ten million hours, a hedgehog came into the tree house and yelled, “Santa! Santa! Santa!” Santa didn’t wake up.

Then a second hedgehog came in and yelled, “Billy! Billy! Billy!” Billy was too busy playing with the stolen presents.

Then a third hedgehog came in and yelled, “ARRRRRRRR! Why did you steal from Santa? Now all the children won’t get their presents!”

Billy felt really bad, and re-wrapped all the presents and put them back in Santa’s sack. Then Connie said, “Let’s help Santa figure out who gets what presents.”

Billy said, “Okay!”

After Santa flew off in his sleigh with his new list and all his presents and reindeer, the four friends hopped down from the tree and decided to go to South America. They took a plane and said to the pilot, “We want to drive this plane.”

So, they pushed the pedals and Billy Goat Filly steered the plane. When they landed, they heard a big CRACK! The airplane cracked and a wing fell off. But they were all right.

They saw a giant snake trying to eat them. Billy Goat Filly stomped as hard as he could on the snake and it hurt a LOT. The snake was so scared, his tail fell off. Then a BIGGER snake came and he said, “Hey, Ding Dong, Billy Goat Filly! Ding Dong! Ding Dong! Ding Dong! Bing Bing!”

Billy said, “I’ll give you lollypops if you snakes go away.”

The snakes said, “Okay. We love lollypops.”

Now the four friends headed for a giant waterfall. By accident, they all fell over it, and splashed into the water below. They started swimming, and they landed on an island, where they found coconut trees, bananas, and pineapples.

“Yummy! We will eat all of the pineapples, bananas, and coconuts,” said Goofy and Billy.

After they ate, they found a cave with diamonds and emeralds and pineapples in it. Suddenly, a dragon came into the cave and blew fire at them. He said, “Why are you taking my pineapples. That’s my dinner!”

The four friends said, “Sorry, we didn’t mean to take your dinner.”

The dragon said, “I don’t want your apology.” He blew more green, blue, yellow, pink, and purple fire at them. “Bad boy, Billy Goat Filly!”

They all ran away from the dragon, and flew back home to their treehouse to plan their next adventure.

The end (for now)


I had to work a little hard with Gordie to try to gently redirect the the fighting and hitting and chasing and fire blowing. Julian was more willing to come up with topics like the candy land with all the babies crawling around. He also likes the fighting topic, but has a wider variety of interests.

It cracked me up to see Gordie’s little voice coming out in the story, especially when he talked about the robots, Santa, and the dragon. I guess you’d have to know these precious boys to appreciate it the way I did. As an aside, however, I’m the one who’s always telling them they can’t drink soda (the Mountain Dew comment). I laughed that they made my comments coming from the poor angel. LOL.

Have you tried this with the kids in your lives? Give it a try. It’s really an eye-opener. And who knows, it might kick start your own creativity!

Whatever you do today on this Superbowl Sunday, whether it's immersing yourself in watching the game, whipping up treats for those were are doing so, or just enjoying another Sunday at home, be sure allow some writing time. And remember to write like the wind!

                                                                                                                       - Aaron

Friday, February 5, 2010

Deciding When To Pull The Plug

© Angela Henry 2010 all rights reserved

I read a lot of mystery series and many of the ones I love are still going strong after the fifteen and twentieth book, while others are on life-support and clearly need either a serious overhaul, or to be put out of their misery. For instance, I stopped reading one particular series because the main character was still the same age after ten books. Talk about a creative rut. Who wants to read a series where the characters don’t grow and change? Not me! But just when does an author decide to end a series?

Sometimes your publisher makes the decision for you. Declining sales, an editor that leaves the company, or a publisher going out of business can stop a series in its tracks. And while it is possible for an author to move a series to another publisher, many publishers don’t like to take on an existing series because they don’t own the rights to the author’s backlist.

Some authors have a preset number of books in mind when they start writing a series. But often the very nature of the series dictates how many books will be written. In author Daniel Handler’s case, his series of unfortunate events, written under the name Lemon Snicket, tells the tale of the luckless Baudelaire orphans, and logically ended with unlucky number thirteen. And I’m assuming Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, which are titled after the alphabet, will end at book twenty-six.

Boredom can also be a deciding factor. Much like a love affair gone bad; many authors just get sick to death of or their main character and can’t bear to write another word about him/her. So they end it. That’s what one author confided to me when she ended her series after only four books. “I’m just so tired of _______. I want to write about someone else,” she told me. I guess that said it all.

My fourth Kendra Clayton mystery, Schooled In Lies, was recently released and my fifth Kendra book will be released in 2011. Who knows what the future holds. While I’m not yet ready to stop writing my series, I don’t know how I’ll feel a few more books down the line. But I suspect I’m going to keep writing my series as long as people want to keep reading it.

About the author:

Angela Henry was once told that her past life careers included spy, researcher, and investigator. She stuck with what she knew because today she's a mystery writing librarian, who loves to people watch and eavesdrop on conversations. She's the author of four mysteries featuring equally nosy amateur sleuth Kendra Clayton, and is also the founder of the award-winning MystNoir website, which promotes African-American mystery writers, and was named a "Hot Site" by USA When she's not working, writing, or practicing her stealth, she loves to travel, is connoisseur of B horror movies, and an admitted anime addict. She lives in Ohio and is currently hard at work trying to meet her next deadline. You can visit Angela online at:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Inspiration + Perspiration=Success

Okay. I have said it before, and I am saying it again. With emphasis on the formula this time.

If you want to be a writer, get inspired!

Find something that gives you the urge to write about it. Maybe it is a wonderful meal you enjoyed? I love a tasty dish! Or maybe it is a news story that catches your attention. Perhaps it is simply how warm the blanket you are lying under keeps your feet so toasty! Whatever it is GET INSPIRED!

Once that is accomplished then exert that writing muscle. Get busy and put some verbage on the paper. Get active! You have to put the words out there or you will never accomplish your goal of writing something(short story, article, book)-- it is vital that you write. Talking about writing is not the goal here. Taking action is the point.

Remember that formula? Inspiration plus perspiration equals success. Get inspired, get perspired, and you just might find yourself on Amazon :) soon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Tax Man Cometh

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

I posted this article last year around this time. Since it was well received and we've gained some new readers, I thought it would be worth posting it here again.

* * *

When I chose to write fiction, I became the dutiful student. I was determined to teach myself how to write a well-crafted book--bought every book I could grab on writing prose, characterization, dialogue, action scenes and so much more. I followed blogs, joined in conversation on forums and asked as many questions as I possibly could about writing and the publishing process without sounding like a total newbie. I later studied the art of book promotion and marketing--another important piece of the pie.

This was all well and good, but no one ever said, “Hey, don’t forget the tax man!” In fact, once I decided to blog on this subject, I looked through several of my reference books. I wasn't surprised to see that none of them mention a word about taxes or record keeping.

With April 15 looming in the not so distant horizon, I spent this entire past weekend organizing my publishing and personal tax information for our accountant. The subject is still fresh on my mind and thus I thought our readers might be interested to know what else I do when I'm not writing. Please keep in mind that although I've taken a couple of college courses in accounting, I’m not a tax guru or an accounting whiz kid--not by a long shot. I pay good money to an excellent accountant to work the magic for me. But I am organized when it comes to tracking information. Please understand that what I’m about to share is based solely on what has worked for me and what I’ve learned along the way.

First, hire an experienced, trust-worthy accountant. Can’t say enough on this one.

Tax Exempt Status

If you haven't already, check into getting tax exempt status. Visit the IRS, do a search on “tax exempt application” and read up on it. Ask your accountant for information or contact your state’s department of revenue to acquire an application. A tax exempt number will allow you to purchase items without paying taxes on them initially. You will, however, need to record your purchases and pay the tax to your state’s department of revenue either quarterly or annually, depending on how your account is set up.

A tax exempt number is also critical if you plan to sell items at locations other than bookstores where you need to bring your own supply of books (libraries, book clubs, etc.). Why? Because like it or not, Uncle Sam requires us to charge sales tax on the items we sell. In return, we're expected to write a check to our state department of revenue for the amount of sales tax collected throughout the quarter/year. If you sell book to a tax-exempt entity like a library, you’ll need to track those sales as well because they’re part of the equation needed to calculate how much tax you owe the state.

Track Expenditures

IMPORTANT: Keep your personal money and your writing revenue/expenditures separate. You'll sleep better at night for it.

Open a checking account to use for the sole purpose of tracking writing related expenditures and revenue. Another good way to track expenditures is to dedicate a credit card for writing expenses. This is critical if you have monthly fees for web server services, pay membership dues online, purchase books, etc., and your invoice will serve as an excellent proof of purchase if you’ve misplaced a receipt.

Set up a file folder and keep every receipt for items purchased relative to writing/publishing. You’ll need the receipts to back up your records in case there are any questions. Print payment acknowledgements when you purchase online. It's better to have more in your file than not enough.

Create a spreadsheet that includes, but is not limited to the following columns:

• Date of purchase

• Supplies (pencils to paper and everything in between.)

• Postage expense

• Travel & lodging expense

• Meals

• Books & publications (reference books, writing magazine subscriptions, etc.) Web development (server fees, etc.)

• Equipment (computers, software, cameras, recording devices, printers, fax, etc.)

• Repairs on equipment (did you need to have that nasty virus removed from your computer? Claim it.)

• Printing expense (bookmarks, forms, stationary, etc.)

• Books purchased from your publisher for resale

• Dues paid to writers organizations and website membership fees

• Promotional fees

• Contest fees

• Clothing expense (Did you buy a new outfit for your book launch signing? It's deductable.)

• Sales incentives (items purchased as giveaway items)

• Long distance phones/fax bills (radio interviews, calls to your publisher, editor, agent, etc.)

• Workshops & conference fees

• Misc. (Often one-time expenditures that don't fit neatly into any of the other categories)

You get the idea, right? You may find other categories to add that fit your situation too. Make sure you total each column vertically and horizontally and that your entries match the dates and amounts on your receipts.

Track your donation/giveaway or gifted items.

If you've purchased books, you undoubtedly gave a few away along with posters, book bags, and other items. Be sure to include the quantity of each item and the cost. Books you've mailed for contests should also be included here. You’d be surprised how quickly this adds up. Keep track of them and their cost.

Track Revenue

This includes royalties and any other money collected.

Keep track of books/items you sell to other tax exempt entities.

I sold a few boxes of books to a couple of local libraries this year. The libraries were tax exempt too and will pay the tax due on the purchase of my books directly to the state department of revenue when they submit their quarterly or annual report. I, on the other hand, had to report the dollar amount I received from them for the books under “Exemptions/Deductions” in my annual report to show the sale. Be sure to always keep photo copies of your report and record of payment of taxes due.

If you’re not yet published, keep receipts of any writing related items you purchase; books, conferences, classes, writing magazine subscriptions, workshops, travel—anything that is intended for the purpose of eventually getting published. Once you are published, you’ll be able to claim all past purchases as long as you have the receipts (this per my accountant.).

Even if you have an accountant to figure all the details of your tax return, you still need to present the information to him or her in an orderly manner. No shoe boxes allowed!

So, do you still think your job as a writer is over when you type, “The End?” Think again!

* * *

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

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:
Personal blog:
Character Blog:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

E-Book Wars: The First Major Battle

So this weekend, two huge businesses in the publishing world launched the first offensive in the war that's been simmering over e-book rights, pricing and other e-issues ever since big publishers realized there might be something to this e-book thing. The combatants? Macmillan, one of the Big 6 in New York, and retail giant Amazon, unarguably the largest online bookseller. The issue? Pricing.

One major concern publishers have latched onto regarding e-books is the belief that a low price point will devalue hardcovers, and by extension, their authors' work. Amazon, being a retailer permitted to set their own prices, has consistently refused to set e-book prices higher than $9.99.

On Thursday, the Macmillan president met with Amazon executives to discuss their new policy, effective in March, concurrent with the deal they've already signed with Apple for their new iPad device. Macmillan proposed to set e-book prices for new releases at $12.99 to $14.99, with the caveat that they'll lower the prices over time, and have e-books available at mass market paperback prices when the MMP versions are released. Amazon disagreed.

On Friday, Amazon removed the Buy buttons from all Macmillan titles on their site - including hardcover and paperback versions. There are reports that Amazon also deleted sales information and sample chapters of all Macmillan titles that were downloaded by customers onto Kindle devices.

What does this mean for the future of e-rights? The only thing that's clear at this point: no one really knows.

Here's agent Nathan Bransford's take on the issue.

Pro e-book author J. A. Konrath weighs in here.

And from a reader's perspective: Jane at Dear Author.

My take? I'm confused. Mightily. There's no question that things are going to change, but at this point there are too many possibilities to call the direction. Will the iPad, a device that has most tech-savvy e-book consumers feeling "underwhelmed" (as Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books spells out here), prove to be true competition for the Kindle? Will the rest of the Big 6 publishers follow Macmillan's lead, and either force Amazon to raise prices or pull their titles from the world's biggest online bookseller?

The only opinion I've truly formed so far is this: I don't believe a lower price point for e-books is going to destroy hardcover sales. I have several reasons for believing this. One: A good portion of hardcover sales are to libraries - and libraries are not going to replace hardcovers with e-versions. Two: Readers who make hardcover purchases do so because they like hardcovers. They want the durability, and even the prestige, of owning a "better" version of a book by their favorite authors.

And three: Those who read a lot of e-books, or almost exclusively e-books, do not buy and have rarely bought hardcovers in the past, and will not start purchasing hardcovers if e-book versions are not available. If you own an e-reader, chances are good that you read a LOT of books. That means you don't habitually spend $15 to $25 per title. Before e-books, you purchased mass market paperbacks. You were never part of the hardcover equation.

So, listen here, New York publishing and Amazon: STOP PANICKING. There's enough ice cream - er, slices of the e-book pie - for everyone here. It's time to embrace the future. Can't we all just get along?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creating Interesting Characters by Robert Sutherland


© Robert D. Sutherland, 2010

            Creating interesting and believable characters is one of the chief challenges facing writers of fiction. When they succeed, as with Ebeneezer Scrooge, Scarlett O’Hara, Madame Defarge, Atticus Finch, Dr. Jekyll, and Lady Macbeth, the characters are not only interesting and believable, but frequently memorable as well.

            Mystery authors—whether writing cozies, espionage thrillers, capers, police procedurals, or tales of amateur sleuths or private eyes—frequently create characters that meet these standards. Scanning your own experience, don’t you feel you “know”—almost as real people having lives of their own—such characters as Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes (and Dr. Watson), V. I. Warshawski, Lord Peter Wimsey, Kinsey Millhone, Brother Cadfael, Nero Wolfe (and Archie Goodwin), Adam Dalgliesh, Mike Hammer, Kay Scarpetta, George Smiley, Inspector Morse, Joe Leaphorn (and Jim Chee), Easy Rawlins, Sharon McCone, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, and Jessica Fletcher?

            Certainly, among such characters there are many differences—of occupation, ethnicity, social standing, time period, background, temperament, personal “history”, physical environment, and geographical location. But what do they share in common? For one thing, each of these is a protagonist appearing in a series. This gives devoted readers multiple opportunities to see the character in action, get to know personality traits, habits, and eccentricities, and observe changes the character may undergo throughout the sequence. Doyle wrote four novels involving Holmes, for example, and fifty-six short stories. This repeated exposure makes characters memorable.

            Ancillary characters—friends, associates, rivals—who accompany the protagonist from story to story may also be appealing and memorable. (Typically, villains do not continually re-appear as a series progresses; and if they do, they tend to be seasoned career criminals or conspiratorial enemy organizations. In most whodunits, for example, the murderer is “just one of the possible suspects” who is eventually unmasked and dispatched; and since he or she is frequently one of the least likely suspects, that character tends not to be one who lingers in the reader’s memory. There are exceptions, of course.)
            Other things that believable and memorable characters have in common are distinguishing or unusual physical traits: Holmes’s lean hawkishness, Nero Wolfe’s fat, Poirot’s waxed mustache and elegant grooming, Miss Marple’s deceptive demeanor of benign good-natured simplicity while knitting away and taking tea.

            Likewise, they tend to have distinctive habits and personality traits: Holmes’ intensity while on a case, and his depression when no game’s afoot; Wolfe’s indolence, orchid growing, and reluctance to leave his house; Poirot’s egocentric dandyism and trust in his little gray cells; Miss Marple’s cynicism and will to justice; Morse’s love of opera; Dalgliesh’s poetic intellectualism and emotional reserve; Warshawski’s psychic toughness; Marlowe’s philosophical bent; Fletcher’s wholesome geniality.

            How they conceive and develop their characters will of course vary from writer to writer. Some things are undoubtedly universal. Believable characters are rounded and multi-faceted, like real people are. They aren’t cardboard cutouts, allegorical abstractions, or stereotyped cookie-cutter clichés. They have peculiar traits, habits, mannerisms, modes of thought and speech, personal values, obsessions, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, goals and ambitions, successes and failures, past histories and future plans, hopes and fears. They are as consistent and as contradictory as the people you know. Authors must come to understand their characters thoroughly, knowing how they would feel, react, and express themselves in particular situations, and—equally important—how they would not. Memorable characterizations are not generally achieved through lengthy description, but by dramatization—showing through actions and dialogue who the character is.

            In writing my mystery novel, THE FARRINGFORD CADENZA (The Pikestaff Press, 2007 ), I let the story itself suggest and shape the characters. I’ll explain.

  The novel is a suspenseful, humorous literary mystery that subtly skews generic conventions to continually surprise readers with reversals of their assumptions and expectations. Suspense is achieved, in part, by keeping readers off-balance, unable to predict what will happen on the next page, or in the next paragraph; in part, by providing them information which the characters don’t possess. Since being continually surprised is part of the fun of reading the book, the surprises come thick and fast. Part of the suspense and much of the humor is achieved by also continually surprising the characters.

Here’s the storyline that suggested and shaped the characters. In 1947, Charles Philip Farringford, one of America’s foremost composers, dies on a train returning home to New York after performing his as-yet-unpublished Fifth Piano Concerto on a concert tour of three cities. When his body arrives at Penn Station wearing pajama trousers backside front, there are two one-way tickets to New York in the sleeping compartment—but no companion. Also missing is Farringford’s suitcase, and with it the unique manuscript of the six-minute cadenza for solo piano which occurs in the concerto’s fourth movement. When, after intensive search, the cadenza manuscript cannot be found, the concerto is published in 1948 with a blank spot in the score where the cadenza would have gone; and performers must improvise their own cadenzas to fill the gap. People in the three audiences who heard Farringford perform the cadenza attest uniformly that not only was the music sublimely beautiful, but hearing it constituted a peak experience which changed their lives in beneficial and empowering ways. For those who never had the chance to hear it played, the missing cadenza thus comes, in the ensuing decades, to have legendary—even mythic—status.

Thirty-four years after Farringford’s death, a music student finds the cadenza manuscript in the false bottom of a piano bench in a Baltimore flea-market. Professor Pettigrew holds a triumphal press conference to announce the discovery; but before the concerto’s publisher can arrive to claim the cadenza, the manuscript is stolen from Pettigrew’s house—in the first of three separate burglaries that occur on the same night. The publisher and Farringford’s family hire a New York firm of private investigators, N. F. Trntl Associates, to recover the manuscript.

In Baltimore, Ms. Trntl is spied upon, confronted with shadowy misdirections and dead-end clues, entangled in two murders, and forced to deal with repeated attempts on her own life. As the search for the stolen manuscript progresses, readers gradually come to realize (which Trntl never does) that at least ten distinct individuals and groups are avidly pursuing it for a variety of motives and purposes. Most of these pursuers are not aware of the existence of the others, or become so only when their paths continually cross. All of them are aware of Trntl, however. Some want her to find the manuscript for them; some will use any means to prevent her from finding it, and some see her as a dangerous nuisance to be eradicated. As she struggles to recover the cadenza for her clients while guarding her flank, Trntl continues to question what bearing the manuscript’s unexplained disappearance in 1947 has on the puzzles and dangers she faces now.

The characters have roles defined by their relation to the cadenza manuscript. Detectives N. F. Trntl, Felix McKay, Torvald Grimsson, and Carol Brown try to recover it for their clients (and stay alive in the process). The extremely rich Victor Zyzynsky sends operatives Marco, Jerry, and Chip to obtain the cadenza at any cost for his collection of unique artifacts. Another collector who calls himself the Count is competing with Zyzynsky. Music publisher Silas Dinch is obsessed with reuniting the cadenza with the concerto to profit by a new edition. Son Anton Farringford is willing to hold the cadenza for ransom to repay sums that he has embezzled from the trust accounts he manages. “Lefty” Scaevola, a Baltimore mob boss facing Federal indictments on a number of charges, wants to destroy the manuscript and eliminate Trntl, who knows too much about the death of Stephanie Simms, the student who discovered the manuscript. Other purposes motivate pianists Peter Shipley Abbott and Rosamond Foxe (who incidentally is romantically involved with Detective McKay). Zyzynski, who lusts after Rosamond and wants to add her to his collection as well, does not know this, and is bitterly jealous of Abbott whom he mistakenly thinks is his rival for Foxe’s affections.

Hopefully, this indicates how storyline can generate characters and supply motivations to plausibly shape their actions. Each of my characters has distinctive habits, mannerisms, fixations, desires, and modes of operation. Reviewers find them interesting and believable. Memorable? Time will tell.


Robert D. Sutherland taught courses in Linguistics and Creative Writing at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois until his retirement in 1992. He particularly enjoyed teaching Descriptive Linguistics, History of the English Language, Semantic Theory, and Old English. In 1977, he and his co-editor James R. Scrimgeour founded Pikestaff Publications, a not-for-profit literary press that published The Pikestaff Forum, a literary magazine, until 1996. He continues serving as editor at The Pikestaff Press, which publishes books of poetry and prose fiction. In 2009 he began a blog for writers and readers of mysteries. He and his wife Marilyn have traveled widely, reared two sons to adulthood, and worked to promote peace, social justice, and preservation of the natural environment. His publications include a scholarly book, LANGUAGE AND LEWIS CARROLL; a novel, STICKLEWORTAND FEVERFEW (containing 74 of his pencil illustrations), which received the 1981 Friends of American Writers Juvenile Book Merit Award for author/illustrator; a second novel, THE FARRINGFORD CADENZA; short fiction, poems, and essays on literature, education, and publishing. His interests include classical music, the nature of metaphor, reading, travel, film noir, and the comparative study of mythologies.

Books by Robert D. Sutherland:
             LANGUAGE AND LEWIS CARROLL, Janua Linguarum, Series Maior, 26 (Mouton DeGruyter, 1970). 245pp.  A scholarly work; currently in print.

             STICKLEWORT AND FEVERFEW.  A novel for children, adolescents, and  adults, with 74 illustrations by the author.  (The Pikestaff Press, 1980). 355pp. Prize: Received the 1981 FRIENDS OF AMERICAN WRITERS JUVENILE BOOK MERIT AWARD for author/illustrator.

            THE FARRINGFORD CADENZA. A NOVEL (The Pikestaff Press, 2007). 523 pp.

Personal web site:

Pikestaff Press web site: