Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Still Living In Edit Land

I’m so close to the end and yet, further away than ever before. Of course, I’m talking about my current novel. My word count has been bouncing between 66,700 and 68,000 for the past several weeks, but I’m not too concerned about it. The first draft came like a flash last June, but since then, it’s seen a number of major edits. Not just a few scenes cut here and there, I’m talking about replacing entire chapters, switching scenes, adding characters, and reversing the roles of a few others.

Each time I make a change, though, it reminds me of a skit I watched years ago on the old Carol Burnett Show. Harvey Korman played the role of a character in a book while Carol, the author, narrated it off stage as she typed the scene. It went something like this (paraphrasing here, of course):

Howard entered the room, slammed the door and threw himself on the couch.
Korman (the actor) then walked into the room, slammed the door and threw himself on couch, except that on his way down, the author changed her mind and said, “No, no. That’s not right.”

We could then here the classic sound of an old manual typewriter coming from somewhere off stage and she would begin to narrate her corrected scene.

Howard strolled into the room, threw his coat on the couch and rushed to open the window.
After several of these types of edits, “Howard” started to get frustrated as the changes came more rapidly and in the middle of his action. Often he wouldn't have time to move from one position to another. The whole thing was absolutely hilarious.

Anyway, that skit always comes to mind when I work on my edits. I wonder what my characters thought last week when after getting through the edits on chapter 36, I decided to change the killer. Yes, it was a drastic move, and yes, it did require going back to the beginning and checking each chapter for consistencies, but it’s the best change I’ve made so far. As for my characters, Rhonie Lude and her pals will just have to live with it.

I was hoping to find a clip of that Carol Burnett skit on YouTube, (search on her name and you'll find several) but I couldn’t. Instead, I’ll share this link that I received in an e-mail this week. Stay with it unit the end. It’s really neat.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Revealing Encounter

“Have you ever read anything by her? She’s really good.”

A stranger said this to me last week, while I was browsing shelves of books at our local thrift store. She pointed to one as she spoke – The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton.

I picked it up, opened to the dust jacket, started to read the description. “No, I haven’t,” I said.

“I’d buy that one, but I’ve already read it,” she told me. “You’ll like it.”

The woman telling me this is mid-forties, polished, professional. Wearing a nice outfit, flawless makeup, hair that obviously cost more than a Wal-Mart cut’n’style (which looks great on her). Not someone I’d typically meet in a social situation – me, in jeans, a black dragon tee shirt and a gray hoodie, no makeup, hair that hasn’t been cut or styled since high school, nails painted black, sneakers with skulls on them. But put both of us in front of a shelf of books, and suddenly we have something in common. We like to read. And all readers can find something to talk about.

I thanked her, she smiled and continued shopping. I bought the book (along with a Nora Roberts, a Sidney Sheldon, and Relic, because I’ve seen the movie and have been wondering what the book is like. Hey, it’s a thrift store. I gorge on books there).

This lovely woman clarified something for me. What she did for Kate Morton is what I want. More than anything, I want people who have never met me to approach strangers in bookstores (or thrift stores), point to my book, and say, “Have you ever read anything by her? She’s really good.” If I take away nothing else from my writing career (and here it is, just getting started), I want to excite someone with my stories, and make that social-niche-transcending connection happen over my books.

Has a stranger ever recommended a book to you? If so, did you end up buying it? What’s the most interesting, most unusual or best book recommendation you’ve ever received? I’d love to hear your stories!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Comfort Movies - do your favorite themes end up in your books?

copyright 2010, Aaron Paul Lazar, all rights reserved

Everyone has their favorite comfort food. For some it's mashed potatoes and gravy, for others.. warm from the oven gooey chocolate chip cookies. I love a container of gourmet pistachio ice cream, or a big bowl of cold Bing cherries. But I also crave my "comfort movies" during a family crisis or trauma. After we've survived the latest bump in the road, I need to snuggle into bed with some good food and a big stack of movies.

Of course, the themes in the movies usually reflect those that resonate with me as a writer and human being - and similar ideas often end up in my own books. Does that happen with you?

This week, my mother-in-law (who has lived with us for the past ten years and is a sweetheart), needed two new stents put in her heart. It was a long week, with 13 hour days at the hospital, and three excruciating days of waiting for her to be allowed back home. Everything ended up just fine, but it took its toll on all of us, and when it was all over, I needed my comfort food and movies.

Here are just a few of my favorites, and a cursory list of the themes that appeal to me in them. What are yours?

The English Patient-
Exotic locale, strong characters, forbidden love, unrequited love, the plane crash, the sand storm, the war element, making due in an old, abandoned house and finding a way to accomplish things with very few resources.

To Kill A Mockingbird-
Childhood recaptured, innocence, wrongful persecution of an innocent man, the horrific unfairness of the race issue, extremely strong characters, summertime, father’s incredible example and love, family meals, drama of murdering innocent man, the Halloween scene, Boo.

Shining Through-
War drama, fear of discovery – taut suspense in fish market and basement of house. Running through strange city persecuted by Nazis. (How much more frightening/exciting can that be?) Again, initially unrequited love that is finally realized and heroically so. Good resolution to overall story. Very evil bad guys and gals – surprise that friend isn’t a friend. Heroic rescue under unbelievable circumstances.

Sense and Sensibility-
Long, taut, drawn-out unrequited love with twists and turns that is finally, finally resolved. Local color, family relations, food, countryside, horses. The sweet sadness of the older man who adores the younger woman, finally resolved. Running through beautiful fields in the rain, the drama of the sister nearly dying.

The Game –
Incredibly clever manipulation of one man’s life – the drawing out of his inner sensitivities and true family love through extraordinary experiences that crack the shell of his hard veneer. Going back in time to see father on home movies in his head, the birthday parties, the leap from the roof. History like that is so riveting. Nonstop action.

Frequency –
Father and son reconnecting after loss. So powerful, everyone in the world that’s lost a parent or loved one wants this… needs this. An otherworldly connection through time – so amazing. The smoke burns on the desk. Changing history.  Fascinating.

Double Jeopardy –
Innocent, loving woman set up by vile husband – loses child to him for seven years. Outrage at innocent being convicted, sweet revenge when final retribution accomplished.

Corrina, Corrina –
The poignant pain of father and child losing mother to unknown death. Strong personalities of parents, father’s struggle to recover, child’s affiliation with new, unusual friend who brings both of them out of their depression with candid humor and love. Recover is possible through unexpected means. Defying societal mores in the fifties– black/white relationship is superb. Unexpected musical talents in most surprising people.

While You Were Sleeping –
Intensely different, irreverent, and hysterically funny characters. Unrequited love in beginning, turning even more so when Lucy falls for Jack instead of Peter. Extraordinarily sad, sad, sad scenes of this poor lonely girl who’s lost everyone. Just heartbreaking. Loss, lonliness, need for family, finding family, fear of loss family, holidays alone, bravery in face of great hardship. Dream of Florence, fact that Jack knows her dreams, recognizes, and gives her the snow globe based on this knowledge. 

Big –
Ability to step out of one’s life into another.  The simplicity of childhood. Absolutely priceless. The need to prove to a childhood pal that he was indeed still a child inside was brilliantly felt and executed. And the tender awakenings of love were splendid.

The Green Mile –
Intensely rich characters, unjustly accused innocent, sweet man. Conversation so real. John Coffee is perhaps my favorite character of all time, right up there beside Odd Thomas and Jenner.

Witness -
Gorgeous farming environment, German language sprinkled throughout, intense unrequited love, strong characters, taut action. The harsh ugliness of the urban life clashes so intensely with the purity of the Amish country and family life. Gorgeous cinematography.

Peggy Sue Got Married -
The universal draw of stepping back in time to relive one's childhood - being able to do things over again with the knowledge of an adult and the physique/future of a teenager - was so powerful. Love of family. Being able to visit with grandparents that have passed. Damn, I love this movie...

The Station Agent - 
Finn, Joe, and Olivia...what an unlikely trio of friends, and how deeply evolved each character is. I am crazy about this movie and the characterizations are superb.

Here are a few more of my staple comfort movies:  

Regarding Henry, Forever Young, The Family Man, Dragonfly, The Majestic, Nell, As Good As It Gets, The Birdcage, Don Juan de Marco, The Human Stain, Remains of the Day, Pride & Prejudice, Under the Tuscan Sun.

There are so many more. But now, let me know how you feel about this. What are your comfort movies? List the themes that appeal to you and see if those themes have crept into your work in any fashion. It's a fun exercise!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Contest with KILLER PRIZES! (Oh, and I'm going to chat, too)

Hey folks,

I don't usually post here as my alter ego-slash-real-name, but there's something exciting going on Monday for Sonya Bateman. Bitten By Books is hosting a virtual launch party for my debut novel, MASTER OF NONE - and I'm giving away some Fabulous Prizes(TM), so I hope you'll stop by!

The all-day chat is on Monday, March 29, starting at noon Central time (that's 1 p.m. EST, for everybody in my time zone). If you RSVP for the event, you get an extra 25 entries into the contest! Here's how to RSVP:

-Click here to go to the announcement post
-Leave a comment on the announcement post that includes 'RSVP' in it somewhere (you can say other stuff, too, as long you get that RSVP in there)
-Show up on the day of the launch party and leave a comment on the launch party post mentioning that you RSVP'd, and asking me a question. And that's it!

Here's what I'm giving away:

1st prize: A $75 Amazon gift card and a 2GB thumb drive preloaded with Master of None e-book
2nd prize: A $25 Amazon gift card and a 2GB thumb drive preloaded with Master of None e-book
3rd prize: A 2GB thumb drive preloaded with Master of None e-book

You can find out more about the book and read the first chapter on my website at Hope to see you at the party!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Writing Friends, Family & Famous People Into Fiction

© Nancy Means Wright 2010 all rights reserved

I’ve published fifteen books to date with almost as many gathering dust in my closet, and there is hardly a character that isn’t partially modeled on someone I know. The most blatant was not a novel, but a 1988 memoir about family and a small craft shop I ran in our barn: I used people’s names without written permission and to my great relief, no one sued. In fact, the book was a bestseller in our local Vermont Book Shop because buyers thought he or she might be in it! And I did treat people humorously and lovingly. My four kids called it more fiction than nonfiction—but that’s what happens in memoirs, isn’t it? Take a single childhood event and you have half a dozen diametrically opposite points of view on what exactly happened.

I do, admittedly, base most of my fictional characters on real life people. I make a sort of collage creation, using aspects of one person, and then another, throwing in myself, and memory. I exaggerate certain behavior and try to give each character a distinctive voice. Then I make changes so that the facts are all lies, but hopefully, the overall story is true. One’s characters, I think, should come out of real life, and not from television or film where they run the risk of becoming second hand, generic, or stereotypical characters. And since I try to have my plot come out of a flaw in both the protagonist and the villain, I first ask myself: What does this character desire most of all? And then: What, or who will get in the way of this character’s desire? One must, of course, create tension, conflict.

I cull most of my characters from family and friends, from quirky neighbors, now and then a stranger. I follow people into stores or cafes just to hear the climax of their conversations. I eavesdrop; I collect voices, accents, colloquialisms. I once published a book called VERMONTERS AT THEIR CRAFT, and frequently use both artists and their particular craft in my writing: a batik maker for a story in Redbook—the way you pile color upon color makes a great metaphor. Or a part-Abenaki Indian, part-French Canadian basketmaker in my mystery novel, STOLEN HONEY; the man and his basket helped to fuel the plot. Novelist Nancy Willard famously said, “Getting to know your characters is like throwing a block party: you start with a few, and suddenly whole neighborhood shows up!” It’s true! I’m sure that happened with the great Charles Dickens, who populated his novels with a virtual cast of hundreds! And many of them through direct observation.

And even though I use other people as models, I’ve discovered that people perceive themselves differently from the way we might describe them. My mother-in-law, for example, thought she was a certain elegant older women in my YA novel, DOWN THE STRINGS, when I’d actually cast her as a bossy bus driver! (I never told her, of course.) On the other hand, my adolescent daughter Catharine, who was the protagonist of that novel, was upset that I’d described her down to her mane of carroty-red hair and size ten feet, and called her “artsy” when she “was not, no!” To no avail, I reminded her how lucky she was to have a book come out of the party that inspired the novel, to which 200 kids came and virtually wrecked the house—and still she didn’t get a month’s grounding or a cut-off allowance. All four of my children, in fact, were written into my kids’ mystery, THE PEA SOUP POISONINGS, when they ran an adventurous summer spy club and apple army in our backyard. In my novel one even had to solve a crime: Who made the pea soup that poisoned old Granny Fairweather down the street? The novel won an ’06 Agatha for Best Children’s/YA Mystery, and to celebrate, I took all four out to dinner and a movie.

For my new Mary Wollstonecraft series, I chose an historical person as my protagonist—not an easy choice, since I had to keep my character in her historical setting—time and place—and thoroughly research her background and personality in order to make her wholly convincing. And since I was writing a mystery novel, I had to make her a believable sleuth as well. That wasn’t hard in Wollstonecraft’s case since she had a brilliant, inquisitive mind, and was incensed at any injustice in the world. In fact, she even kidnapped her sister from an abusive husband, changing carriages in mid-flight to their rented rooms. Later, en route from Portugal to England she challenged a ship’s captain to stop and pick up sailors from a French ship; and strolled bravely through Paris at the height of the revolutionary Reign of Terror when heads were tumbling like stones off the sharp blade of the guillotine!

So I read six biographies.a memoir, all her letters—and countless books on the mores and idiosyncrasies of the 18th century, and leapt into the narrative, from her (third person) point of view. In the first novel in the series, MIDNIGHT FIRES, she is a 27-year-old governess to three young aristocratic girls in the notorious Anglo-Irish Kingsborough family. Lord and Lady Kingsborough were real persons as well, so there was more research to do on their lives and autocratic personalities. I had to tread carefully to keep from falling into error! But again, the latter were colorful, even cruel people. Lord K invented a punishment he called pitchcapping, in which burning tar is poured on the victim’s shaved head and then lit. Horrible! And later he killed his third daughter Mary’s forbidden lover in cold blood when he disapproved and she ran away to marry him.

So if you choose a real life person, preferably historical, with no living ancestors, choose a colorful person living in interesting, exciting times, and your work might be easier than making up a character out of whole cloth. I say might, because there are readers out there who are familiar with both period and person, and will not tolerate an error! And don’t worry about mixing real and fictional persons. In MIDNIGHT FIRES I invented a whole family of peasants who figure prominently in the plot, and a womanising aristocrat who is knifed during a bonfire feast at the pagan festival of Samhain. And real and fictional seem to have worked well together. When I’d finished the book, all the characters were flesh and blood to me, and it was hard to lift my fingers from the computer keys. I had, figuratively speaking, become my characters!

About the author:
Nancy Means Wright is the author of 15 books, including 5 mystery novels from St. Martin’s Press, and this April, an historical novel, Midnight Fires: A Mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft (Perseverance Press). She was an Agatha winner and nominee for two kids’ mysteries, and has published stories in American Literary Review, Level Best Books, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, et al). She lives in Vermont with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thing Thursday

Today is thing day. Yes, I just created that idea and am giving it to you. Today you are responsible for THINGS. That includes the "thing" you call your WIP. Maybe you don't have a thing? OKay, I will help you make one.

Thing Generator:

Take one main character who is having nightmares after witnessing an arsonist in action then add in a mad scientist who is manufacturing a terrible dreadful disease in his lab, and throw in a few reporters looking for a challenge

Like my thing?

Fine. Go out and make your own thing! Thing Generator and have some fun!

Want to create people things? Go here : Person Generator

There you have it. Maybe I should have called this ZOMBIE Thursday? Zombies, things, it's pretty similar right?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Page 69 Test

Saddle up, folks - it's once again time to pick on conventional writing advice and point out why you shouldn't always take those oft-repeated words of wisdom as The Gospel According To [Insert-Famous-Author-Slash-Fabulous-Agent-Or-Editor-Here].

Beginnings are terribly important. (This part, at least, is true.) The conventional wisdom goes something like this: an agent or editor is going to give you just a little bit of time - maybe even less than a minute - to hook them with your prose. Therefore, your beginning must:

* Start with someone dying
* Blow something up
* Drip with so much voice that the reader can't hear herself think
* Be The Most Amazing Thing You Ever Write

Yes, you must have a compelling beginning. But here's the thing: once you get past that initial hurdle (Agent or Editor reads sample, requests more material, How Exciting!), the rest of your novel must be just as compelling as the beginning. Whatever bar you set with your opening has to be maintained throughout the rest of the story. How can you tell if yours works?

I was recently invited to contribute to The Page 69 Test blog, where authors open their novels to page 69, read what's there, decide whether it's representative of the tone of the entire book, and provide commentary along with a sample (or all) of the text on the page. This, in my opinion, is a fun and interesting way to evaluate the general tone of a novel (and refreshingly different from displaying, commenting on and reworking your beginning over and over and over and over...)

Does it work? Here are a few quick snippets from my own page 69s.


I was so dead.

Trevor stopped in front of me. “Mr. Donatti.”


He jammed the Taser against my thigh and pulled the trigger.

I went limp. Fortunately, the rope held me up. He kept the jolt short, and when he pulled back, I gasped, “Jesus Christ. Aren’t you supposed to ask me a question first?”

Trevor shook his head as if he was disappointed. This time, the damned thing juiced the side of my neck.


“Leave your manners back at the ranch?” Eddie’s smile stayed in place, but his arms folded across his chest. Where had he gone wrong? And then Gabriel remembered the name. The goddamned name.

“Sorry. I’m...Angel.”

“Well, I’m charmed.” Eddie nodded and stepped back to let him through, and he moved to the bench. Eddie added with a grin, “Looking forward to bein’ the first guy with the pleasure of beating you.”

Great. He managed a weak smile and sat down. The clock moved on, and time rushed him toward the inevitable.


Desolation engulfed Shiro as he trudged up the stairs leading to the security hub. The air around him was stifling, choking, weighed his feet down until he could barely lift them to continue on his path.

Everything was gone. His friends, profession, his alter ego, even the self-control he’d prided himself on for so long—all dissipated like so much smoke. Furthermore, he was faced with an impossible task, one he wished with all his heart had not fallen to him, the unsuccessful completion of which would end in his death.

Without knowing how much time remained until his forced departure, Shiro planned on collecting all the information Serizawa’s security force had amassed on Shonen over time. Perhaps there was something they had missed that would at least give him a starting point.

At the moment, he faced the proverbial needle in a haystack.


“I'll bet you will.” Cobalt shook his head, turned away, and headed for the center booth. The first day, he told himself, would be the hardest. Tomorrow the empty ache inside him would diminish a bit. Tomorrow he wouldn't see Will's tortured flesh every time he closed his eyes, or the look on Will's face for the moment he trusted him—like the sun breaking through clouds.

Tomorrow. But not today.


I do feel these pages are pretty accurate, as far as reflecting the various tones of the books. So, how about you - what's on your Page 69?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Relentless, by Dean Koontz

Once again, I’ve come face to face, or nose to page as the case may be, with “the master.” An entire year of reading other authors’ books has deprived me of this thrill, this high, this bow-down-to-the-best-writer-on-earth sensation. I’ve missed it. Frankly, it’s been so long, I didn’t even remember how much I missed it!

This week, I had the intense pleasure of reading Relentless by Dean Koontz. Blazed through it in two sittings. Glued to the pages, mesmerized by the story and the writing, I whipped through the chapters with eyes wide open and heart pounding.

As fast as I read, I also stopped to savor every witty conversation. I lusted after each poetic passage. I marveled at his ability to keep me hanging off the cliff for the whole damned story. And of course, I underlined a hundred passages.

Reading this type of book is how I learned to write, how I continue to hunger for his level of craftsmanship, how I push myself harder and harder.

Damn, he’s good.

“The lead-gray sky of the previous afternoon, which had looked as flat and uniform as a freshly painted surface, was deteriorating. Curls of clouds peeled back, revealing darker masses, and beards of mist hung like tattered cobwebs from a crumbling ceiling.”

“Curls of clouds?” I LOVE that. “Beards of mist?” Divine. How many times have I described the sky or mist in my books? Dozens upon dozens. But my brain never came up with “curls of clouds.”

Here’s another genius passage, once again describing the sky.

“High in the steadily blackening sky, a silent convulsion broke the string in an infinite necklace, and fat pearls fell through the day, bouncing on the slate patio, dimpling the water in the harbor, rattling the gulls off the seawall to sheltered roosts.”

Sigh. See what I mean? “Fat pearls fell through the day.” “Rattling the gulls off the seawall.” Magic. Genius. Sheer beauty.

Of course, Koontz’s rising and plummeting, rocking and rolling, constant fast heartbeat action is renowned. Even more so here, with shocking, luscious secrets unveiled partway through the story about a writer who gets a really bad review by a reviewer-turned-psycho. It escalates so fast from there, my head spun for the rest of the thrill ride.

Koontz is also a master at dialog. He’s just about the best I’ve ever read, and I particularly love his page long passages of dialog that contain not one tag or beat. Just quotes. Clear. Concise. Never a doubt who’s talking. That’s Koontz.

Of course, his sense of humor slays me. Check out this description of a very huge man.

“As usual, he wore a vibrant Hawaiian shirt, khaki pants, and sneakers. The shirt presented an acre of lush palm trees silhouetted against a sunset; and one of his shoes could have carried the baby Moses down the river more safely than an ark full of bulrushes.”

More than once I laughed out loud, waking up my poor wife who was trying to sleep. (Sorry, hon! Don’t blame me. Blame Dean Koontz!)

As writers, we need this kind of literary shaking up as often as possible. As readers, we deserve this kind of a treat. Now I’m on to my next Koontz book–The Longest Night of the Year. I can’t wait!

If you read one book this week, treat yourself to Relentless. I guarantee it will stir up your creative juices and take you on a virtual thrill ride that will knock your socks off.


Aaron Paul Lazar wasn’t always a mystery writer. It wasn’t until eight members of his family and friends died within five years that the urge to write became overwhelming. “When my father died, I lost it. I needed an outlet, and writing provided the kind of solace I couldn’t find elsewhere.”

Lazar created the Gus LeGarde mystery series, with the founding novel, DOUBLE FORTÉ (2004), a chilling winter mystery set in the Genesee Valley of upstate New York. Like Lazar’s father, protagonist Gus LeGarde is a classical music professor. Gus, a grandfather, gardener, chef, and nature lover, plays Chopin etudes to feed his soul and thinks of himself as a “Renaissance man caught in the 21st century.”

The creation of the series lent Lazar the comfort he sought, yet in the process, a new passion was unleashed. Obsessed with his parallel universe, he now lives, breathes, and dreams about his characters, and has written ten LeGarde mysteries in eight years. (UPSTAGED – 2005; TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON – 2007 Twilight Times Books; MAZURKA – 2009 Twilight Times Books, FIRESONG – 2010; with more to come.)

One day while rototilling his gardens, Lazar unearthed a green cat’s eye marble, which prompted the new paranormal mystery series featuring Sam Moore, retired country doctor and zealous gardener. The green marble, a powerful talisman, connects all three of the books in the series, whisking Sam back in time to uncover his brother’s dreadful fate fifty years earlier. (HEALEY’S CAVE: A GREEN MARBLE MYSTERY, 2010; ONE POTATO, BLUE POTATO, 2011; FOR KEEPS, 2012) Lazar intends to continue both series.

Lazar’s books feature breathless chase scenes, nasty villains, and taut suspense, but are also intensely human stories, replete with kids, dogs, horses, food, romance, and humor. The author calls them, “country mysteries,” although reviewers have dubbed them “literary mysteries.”

“It seems as though every image ever impressed upon my brain finds its way into my work. Whether it’s the light dancing through stained-glass windows in a Parisian chapel, curly slate-green lichen covering a boulder at the edge of a pond in Maine, or hoarfrost dangling from a cherry tree branch in mid-winter, these images burrow into my memory cells. In time they bubble back, persistently itching, until they are poured out on the page.”

The author lives on a ridge overlooking the Genesee Valley in upstate New York with his wife, daughter, three grandchildren, mother-in-law, three dogs, and cat. Although recent empty nesters, he and his wife just finished fixing up their 1811 antique home when the kids moved home. Again.

Lazar maintains several websites and blogs, was the Gather Saturday Writing Essential host from 2006-2008, writes his monthly “Seedlings” columns for the Voice in the Dark literary journal and the Future Mystery Anthology Magazine. He has been published in Absolute Write as well as The Great Mystery and Suspense Magazine. See excerpts and reviews here:

Contact him at

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pen Names

© by Nancy Barr

I’ve been thinking about pseudonyms lately for a lot of reasons but the main one is this: If you clicked on this link hoping to find a treatise on the wonderful (and bestselling) Anna Pigeon mystery series, you will be disappointed. For the record, I am not related to Nevada Barr, I do not know Nevada Barr, and Nevada Barr is definitely not my pen name (although it certainly is more exotic-sounding than Nancy). Now that we have that straight, let’s talk about me. Just kidding, sort of.

I write the Page One mystery series which is set in Michigan’s remote and rugged Upper Peninsula (affectionately known as “da U.P.,” whose native residents are known as Yoopers). Nevada Barr’s series is set at various national parks across the United States including two books set in Isle Royale National Park, which is officially part of the U.P. but even more remote and rugged. My protagonist is a scrawny newspaper reporter with a basset hound sidekick, a police detective for a best friend and a soft spot for society’s forgotten souls. Nevada’s books feature the aforementioned Anna Pigeon, a tough-minded, battle-scarred park ranger, perfectly capable of single-handedly taken’ down the bad guys (or gals).

You might think there wouldn’t be all that much confusion among readers about who writes what but au contraire. I’ve lost track of the number of times fans have told me about trying to explain my books to their friends and being corrected with “Oh, you must mean Nevada Barr. Yes, I love her books.” Sigh.

Thinking there would be a positive side to our similar names, when my first novel was released, several friends pointed out that my books would be sitting on store shelves right next to those of the bestselling Nevada, thereby silently beckoning her fans to let their fingers travel a bit to the left and take a chance on a newbie. Funny thing is, my novels almost never end up in the mystery section, rather they are placed in the regional section, lumped together with books featuring photos of everything “Yooperesque” from loons to lighthouses; books about how to bag a pheasant, wild turkey, buck, or bear; recipe books featuring local delicacies like pasties (as past-y, not paste-y), venison stew, etc.; or history books telling the story of the copper boom, iron range, or lumber industry – interesting reading, but not exactly New York Times bestsellers. If you want read one of my books, you’re gonna have to look for ‘em. But that’s a separate problem.

My advice to those pre-published mystery authors with names like Sarah Grafton, Abigail Christie, or Janelle Evanovich, is to use a pseudonym (don’t get placed in the regional section in the local bookstore, if you still have one). I’ve developed several daring variations depending on which genre I write in next: Morghanna Zarr for fantasy tales; Blanche Moreau (family name) for historical romances; Hermione Barron for British country house locked-room mysteries; and Jaz Barrone for good ol’ American shoot-‘em-up thrillers. At this point, anything has to be better than plain white bread Nancy Barr, right?

Nancy Barr is the author of three novels, Page One: Hit and Run, Page One: Vanished, and her latest, Page One: Whiteout. In addition to dreaming up aliases, she is working on developing several ideas into at least one coherent, entertaining book. Check out her website : Nancy Barr at Mystery Writers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Good news on the writing front.
I am writing! I am nearing ten thousand words on a new YA fantasy, not yet named.

Better news.
I have something coming out for you!

In fact, A Mirror in Time is available at AllRomance Ebooks as of today, and will be out there at the Kindle store in a few days. The print version is coming out by around the first of April (this depends on Amazon, as we all know).

So if you are an electronic book lover, and you read YA, then please by all means make your way to ARE and get a copy. If you are a lover of all things printed, especially YA, then you are going to have a first print edition of a Kim Smith original in a very short time.

Thanks for being my fans, you guys!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Note To Self: Must Blog

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

I went to a local workshop last weekend sponsored by the Midwest Writers Workshop. One of the speakers was Kelsey Timmerman who, among other things, talked about the importance of blogging on a regular basis.

One reason he gave was to force you to keep writing on a regular basis and to also get your name and work out there. The sessions were short and had he had more time, I would have liked to have heard his take on search engines. Why? Because next to the reasons given above, search engines are why we blog.

Think about how you use search engines. Say you’re looking for a new chicken casserole recipe, you type in the search bar, “chicken casserole” and you’ll get more variation of the same dish than you’ll know what to do with. If someone tries to find you, your book, your series, or anything else you’ve written, the most obvious initial search will be by the you name. The number of posts you’ve published anywhere on the Internet will determine which page your name will first show up on the search engines and how many more will follow.

Just out of curiosity I recently Googled my name. The first link was to my website  The next listing under my name was my Prose and Musing blog and the list continued for over 27 page.

I mention this because a few days ago, a writer friend of mine wrote to say she’d just started her first blog. We chatted for a while online about a few of the things that she should consider in order to get traffic to the site. Here’s some few to keep in mind:

Blog at least three-four times a week in order to show up within the first pages of search engines. This is critical when readers search for your work by your name or your book’s title.

Aside from writing to everyone on your list of contacts (which is good), one of the easiest ways to draw traffic is to exchange links with other bloggers. In Blogger, you have two choices: A link list which is just that, a list of links to your favorite websites or a blog roll. The blog roll gives the link and a snippet of the latest post on that blog.

Whenever possible, provide links within your articles to websites, articles, interviews, etc. Here’s why. Most writers I know have set up a Google Alert for their name, each book title, the name of their series, the name of their blog, etc. Every time his/her name shows up on a search engine, he/she will get a Google Alert. If they’re like me, they’ll follow it back to your blog.

Here’s a Google Alert I received today for “Marta Stephens Author”

This was from a virtual book tour I did in December 2008 to promote the release of “The Devil Can Wait.” The funny thing is, I’d never seen this site before which leads me to my next point.

Whatever you post, make sure it’s something that you won’t mind reading 10 years later, because once it’s “out there,” it’s there forever.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is Creativity Hereditary?

So, I'm a writer. Obviously. :-) I also tend to participate in hobbies and activites that have a creative bent - I play piano (fairly decently) and guitar (not so decently, but I do a mean Stairway to Heaven). I sing (only at family parties when my uncle sets up his karaoke gear, or when I'm alone in the car). I can draw recognizable things (I'm about on the next level after stick figures). I love to play Rock Band.

My husband is an artist (he's WAY better than me). He's also written a few stories, just for fun (he's good), and he's the best plot generator-slash-evil-editor I've ever had the pleasure to work with.

Considering my husband and I are both creative people, was it inevitable that our son would turn out that way?

Our boy, now 13, loves to draw - and he's damned good at it. He's a fantastic drum player (and he kicks the crap out of Rock Band drums on Expert). He sings, but only when he thinks no one is listening (I am. HA!). And since I let him use my digital camera, he's shown quite a talent for directing and acting.

Here's a short movie he made with his cousin this weekend. They filmed it in about 20 minutes, and our son did all the editing, captioning and effects in about 30 minutes (including the time it took to reboot his computer and start over when it crashed on him in the middle of the first attempt). He's the shorter, dark-haired one (the blue-haired one is our cousin).

You tell me: does he get it from us? *G*

(NOTE: Runescape is an online role playing game, where you make your own character, choose hairstyles and clothing, and put the character to work. FURTHER NOTE: Please ignore the large pile of trash bags behind our house. We're in the middle of spring cleaning.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why I Choose to Write About Fictional Settings by F.M. Meredith

© FM Meredith

Many authors set their mysteries in real places, but because I’m writing about small towns I’ve chosen to have my characters live their lives in fictional settings. I grew up in Los Angeles, but after I married I lived in a series of small towns. Each one had its own culture and personality. I live in a small town now, one set in the foothills of the Southern Sierra. I’ve used this background in several of my books—and not always with the same name or surroundings.

What I’ve learned while living in a small town is that businesses don’t stay open. In the time that it takes to write and get a book published, if I used a real restaurant or gift shop in one of my books it might be closed by the time the book came out. Also, if the town is fictional, I can change locations of homes and businesses to suit the plot of the story.

With my Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, I decided to locate the town on the California coast between Santa Barbara and Ventura. There is one real small beach town in the general area, Carpenteria, which is in Santa Barbara County but I wanted Rocky Bluff to be in Ventura County because I’m more familiar with that one. I also didn’t want people to think that Rocky Bluff was a substitute name for Carpenteria.

Rocky Bluff and its police department are completely fictional. Years ago, I lived in Oxnard when it was still a small town. I knew many of the police officers on the Oxnard P.D., partied with them and their families, and was good friends with their wives. It was a different police department than it is now and faces much different challenges. When I decided to write about a police department, I wanted it to be more like the smaller one of that earlier time period.

The Rocky Bluff P.D. is small and doesn’t have all the modern investigative tools that a larger department in a big city has. Though they do use the Ventura County Coroner, most of their cases are solved the old fashioned way, a lot of footwork, hands-on investigation, and questioning of witnesses. And as I tell my friends who are police officers who read my books, “It’s my police department and I can do it anyway I want.”

In the latest in the Rocky Buff P.D., AN AXE TO GRIND,

the setting plays an important part in the story. The book begins with the discovery of a corpse without a head. Detective Doug Milligan and his partner’s investigation takes them to an appliance store, a home on the hillside that was once a part of a Spanish hacienda, an apartment house, a new trendy restaurant, and an abandoned and dilapidated warehouse. With his fiancée, Stacey, he attempts a romantic walk on the top of the bluff overlooking the ocean, but it is rudely interrupted. Alone, Doug goes on the University of California Santa Barbara campus looking for a suspect with dire results.

When my characters do go to a real place like the UCSB campus, I do the necessary research. I’ve been to UCSB and I did interview a campus police officer to get the details correct for what happens on the campus.

Of course, like I would have to do if I were writing about a real place, I have to keep track of what I’ve written about Rocky Bluff, the geography, the location of businesses, the names of streets and which way they run.

Like I feel about my characters, to me Rocky Bluff is as real as any of the many places I’ve lived in and visited over the years. I can see Rocky Bluff in my mind’s eye and I hope anyone who reads AN AXE TO GRIND or the previous books in the series, will see Rocky Bluff as a real place just as I do. All of the books in the series are listed on my website.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over twenty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Dispel the Mist from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series. No Sanctuary is the newest from Oak Tree Press.

She is a member of EPIC, four chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, WOK, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She was an instructor for Writer’s Digest School for ten years, served as an instructor at the Maui Writer’s Retreat and many other writer’s conferences. She makes her home in Springville CA, much like Bear Creek where Deputy Tempe Crabtree lives. Visit her at and at her blog -

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Anthropomorphism (and writing in my sleep)

copyright aaron paul lazar, 2013. All rights reserved.

In the past, I’ve almost always written from the point of view of a human. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book from a dog’s POV a few years ago, and even wrote a few fun chapters. It’s on the “some day” list, like my Gus LeGarde cookbook, and a Finger Lakes coffee table book.
About a month ago, a good friend (Pat Fowler, from NH) invited me to enter the Lorian Hemingway short story writing contest. We’d both write short stories, and then critique each other’s work before subbing them. In my story, I ended up doing one scene from Claude Monet’s dog’s point of view.  
Last week, I read a very original sci fi story by Pat Whitaker from New Zealand, entitled Returning. In the beginning, a being from outer space inhabits the body of a wolf. It’s not exactly anthropomorphism, because the creature is using the wolf as a host, so it’s not attributing human characteristics to the canine. But it must have gotten my creative juices going, because the other night I wrote the following story while sleeping.
Honest! It’s weird, but during the night I find myself writing in my head. I set up the scene, and the words come out as if I’m typing them. It’s never exactly what becomes the final typed version, but it’s pretty close.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about anthropomorphism:

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivation able to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos), "human" and μορφή (morphē), "shape" or "form".

And here’s the story I wrote the other night. ;o)

The Bull
He rose with ease from his desk chair and reached for a crystal tumbler on the counter. Filling it with ice, he poured amber liquid halfway up and took a swig. His sleek black fur shone beneath the vested suit, and a vein throbbed in his neck above his lavender shirt collar.
Lowering his horns for effect, he swung his heavy head back toward the man tied to the chair on the other side of his desk.
The matador’s face flamed brick red. Tears simmered in his eyes. He struggled against his bonds, and almost tipped over his chair. “I don’t get it!”
With a rumbling sigh, the bull lowered himself back into the chair. “I know. This part is often difficult.” He wiggled the thumb-like appendage that protruded from his hoof and winked. “In your experience, bulls don’t have thumbs. But let me tell you, it’s much easier to mix a drink this way.”
Tears sprang from the matador’s eyes. “That’s not what I meant! Why are you doing this?”
An expression of sympathy curled the bull’s lips downward. “Oh, dear. I’m sorry. As I said before, you are an experimental subject. The power of your species to torture and maim, the joy you take in killing, the need to show yourself more powerful than other creatures… it’s long fascinated us.”
“Where’s my family? My boys?” Almost whimpering now, the matador’s eyes churned side to side. “And where the hell am I?”
“I’ve told you. There are no boys. There is no wife. Your life was orchestrated to seem real, in your own head. But sir–you exist simply for the purpose of academic study.”
“But the world is run by humans!”
“No. It’s run by bulls.”
“But on television—”
“All manufactured for the experiment. Shall I turn on the real television?”
With a click, the teak walls parted, revealing a flat screen. The bull flipped through channels, each filled with horned heads, wide flat noses—sans rings—and various colors and sizes of huge, hoofed, mammoth bulls. Bulls dressed in clothing, bulls golfing, bulls driving trucks. Bulls everywhere.
A hilarious giggle rose from the matador. “I get it! This is a practical joke! You’re wearing a costume. You staged the whole thing.” He craned his neck around the room. “Okay, José.   Come on out! I fell for it!”
The bull grimaced. “In spite of your capacity for inflicting pain on others, you are most decidedly a fascinating species.”
The matador slumped, then sat up with interest. “Wait! Are there more like me?”
Lighting a fat cigar, the bull tipped back in his chair. “A few.”
Another click on the remote parted wide curtains, revealing a large stadium. “Down there. In the cages.”
“That’s cruel!”
“Perhaps. But it’s safer for bullkind. You don’t think we can let savages like you just wander around, do you?”
Defeated, the matador let the tears stream from his formerly stoic face. The sequins on his costume glistened wet. His hat tipped sideways. “You mean my career? The accolades I’ve earned? My entire life?” Sobbing now, his head dropped to his chest. He raised it once again. “It’s all fake?”
“Indeed. The glory you found in your…er…career was fabricated. You thought you defeated and killed bulls. You reveled in it. But it was all staged. No real bulls were hurt.” The bull spun his chair to stare down into the arena, tenting his forehooves. “But don’t worry. We’ll treat you with kindness. You’ll have food and water, exercise, and sunshine. And we’ll get you vaccinated. After all, we aren’t barbarians. We’re not human.”


Aaron Paul Lazar

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Third Horseman of a Novel

© John F. Dobbyn 2010 all rights reserved

Any junior high student at a decent school can list the three elements of fiction – character, plot, and setting. Of the three, the one that frequently gets the shortest shrift is setting. And that’s unfortunate. Some mystery novels are like one-horse shays. They are powered almost exclusively by plot, and unless the twists and surprise ending are as monumentally startling as the end of “THE USUAL SUSPECTS”, they generally die of anemia. Novels driven exclusively by fascinating characters can possibly survive in the genres of romance or biography, but are unlikely to survive as mysteries or thrillers. Novels in those latter two genres need to be pulled by at least the two-horse team of plot and character.

That said, I would opt every time for the writing style that resembles a Russian troika – all three horses, setting included, pulling their own weight to transport the reader beyond the pages of the book.

How does an author hitch that third horse to the sled? First, the author deliberately chooses a setting that is bizarre, unique, feared, loved, or all of the above, and at the same time, one that is unlikely to be well known to the reader. That selection, however, cannot be made solely for shock or interest value. The setting chosen should be so integral to the subject matter of the novel that neither the characters nor the plot could exist convincingly in any other setting.

Case in point. In my novel, NEON DRAGON, Michael Knight, twenty-seven year old trial attorney who narrates in the first person, and Lex Devlin, war-weary lion of the Boston criminal defense bar, are drafted as a team to defend the son of an African-American judge. The son is charged with shooting an elderly man to death. Could happen anywhere, right? Not exciting. But if the elderly man is the beloved Chinese grandfather figure to every child in Boston’s Chinatown, and if the murder occurs in the heart of Chinatown at the height of the tumult of a Chinese New Year’s parade, it begins to take on interest. Almost without effort, I can immerse the reader in the mysterious and enticing, sometimes frightening world of gambling dens, shops of centuries old herbal medicine, unique houses of prostitution, and a culture that just beneath its serene surface, submits to the strangling, violent grip of the modern Chinese tong. The setting is not only essential to the plot and characters, it pulls its weight in giving an exotic depth to the novel. Any readers who find themselves caught up in the world of NEON DRAGON will know instantly and to a certainty that they are not in Jackson Square, New Orleans or Palm Beach, Florida or even Beacon Hill, Boston.

The Chinatown setting in NEON DRAGON serves a second purpose that is a critical element of my novels. It teaches the reader something he/she would not be likely to know otherwise, and lets the reader take away something more permanent than a number of hours of entertainment. The real world of Chinatown, beneath its neon touristy surface, is completely unknown to most readers. It is a world to which non-Chinese readers would not be admitted even if they ate dinner there five nights a week. My key to entry into the inner sanctum was a close friendship with a high school and college classmate who emigrated to Boston from China at the age of eight. His guidance through many visits to Chinatown peeled away the serene, peaceful surface visible to Caucasian tourists. It opened my eyes to subtle tip-offs to the existence of features like the “large stakes gambling den” and the watchful presence of the youth gang that is the inevitable second cell of the tong. Without interrupting the flow of the action, I wanted to pass that knowledge on to the reader, and the vehicle for teaching was the setting.

In FRAME UP, published by Oceanview Publications in March, 2010, the criminal defense attorneys are the same, but this time the plot involves the intriguing world of art theft and art forgery. I found that if you are looking for world class financiers who will make loans in the high millions to criminal organizations of a variety of ethnicities on the security of a stolen classical work of art, so notoriously recognizable that it cannot be traded openly, your best bet is to go to Amsterdam. So I went to Amsterdam. Again, the special flavor of that city of canals, high finance, open and legal trade in marijuana as a staple at local coffee shops, and classic art that has permeated the culture since the Golden era of Vermeer and Rembrandt, heightens the intrigue; and without being openly didactic, it teaches readers something about a world they are unlikely to experience personally.

So what does an author do if he/she has not personally experienced some fascinating part of the world that is likely to be unknown to most readers? One solution is simply to pass on a dimension to their novel that serious attention to setting could add. Not acceptable. Since I began writing some twenty years ago, I have seldom attended a writers’ conference at which a fundamental slogan has not been re-played as basic wisdom – “Write what you know.” Bunk. I can think of no more effective way to shackle and hamstring writers, especially beginning writers. On the other hand, I would back to the hilt a reversal of that slogan – “Know what you write.” That is liberating. With enough digging through libraries or the internet, perhaps with personal travel to various parts of the world, there is almost no element of culture or geography that cannot be “known”. My wife and partner in research and I went back over all of the streets and alleys of Boston’s Chinatown, in addition to reading current papers on the inner workings of the tong, before writing NEON DRAGON. We explored personally every canal, financial district, hotel, and weed-serving coffee shop that plays a role in FRAME UP before I typed “Chapter One”. Before beginning a third novel, BLACK DIAMOND, I spent many dawn hours on the backstretch of such horse tracks as Saratoga Springs and Suffolk Downs, hanging out with – and quizzing – jockeys, trainers, and hot-walkers. It is like mining gold in the form of trade secrets that can be salted into the telling of a legal thriller involving horse racing.

And, truth be told, every bit of the research is a joy and an education for the author.

About the Author:

A native of Boston, John F. Dobbyn is a graduate of the Boston Latin School. Dobbyn received his B. A. degree in Classics and Linguistics from Harvard College.

After graduating from Harvard, Dobbyn served in the United States Air Force as a radar and radio director of fighter aircraft in the Air Defense Command for three years, and later attended Boston College Law School. After practicing law for three years, during which time he clerked for a federal judge and practiced as an associate with a Boston trial firm, Dobbyn returned to Harvard for a Masters of Laws degree.

In 1969, Dobbyn accepted a position as professor of law at Villanova Law School, where he currently teaches. Dobbyn and his wife Lois live in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. They have one son, John, who is a writer for an advertising agency. John Dobbyn is also the author of Neon Dragon. Frame Up is his latest novel.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


You guys, I almost forgot to post today! I know it's so lame, but my job is getting in the way of a lot of stuff right now, like getting online, using my cell phone, etc. The management has decided to increase productivity by taking away some privileges and like spoiled children, we are not very happy.

SO! To get on with this post... I am going to my very first Sci-Fi/Fantasy Con this weekend, and I am sooo excited! It is being held about three miles from my house, so there will be no need for travel expenses, hotel fees, etc. etc. ad nauseum. I will be able to go and stay for the whole tamale. How's that for fun stuff???

If you are interested in knowing where I am going to be, it is here : MidSouthCon and I will definitely be sharing my experiences with you in days to come. everyone wants to know about the masquerade, the workshops, panels, and fun, right?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

I trust I’ll wake up and the world will be as it was when I placed my head on the pillow the night before and closed my eyes. I trust that in the morning, my family and friends will be safe and no egomaniac has blown us out of the solar system as we slept. I trust my car will start on the first try and when I get to work, everything will be were I left it. I trust that when I go to the bank, my balance hasn’t changed without my authority. I trust that when I use my insurance card, it will offset the debt. I trust the next time I drive to the store, I won’t be shoved off the road. I trust that when I stop to give someone the time, I won’t get mug. Ridiculous? Sure some or all of these things could happen at any time, but they are not in the forefront of my thoughts when I open my eyes.

Insignificant as some of these things may seem, knowing that there are unequivocal certainties in life gives me peace of mind and a sense of balance. I don’t need to look over my shoulder for the next incoming blow.

Trust is a fragile, invisible bond that we can’t touch, smell, or taste. In fact, we tend to forget about it until something or someone comes along and shatters it. When that happens, it creates baggage that we drag from one relationship to the next. This is the case for the main character in my WIP. The story takes place in the early sixties and for a woman PI, life is filled with a sundry list of challenges. From her over-bearing mother to an incident while on the Chicago police force a few years before, betrayal has overshadowed her life. Now when she’s hired to follow her client’s daughter she is confronted with deception again from an unlikely source. In her line of work, she’s used to the lies and egos, but when those lies threaten her life, the rules change and she unleashes her own sense of judgment.

As a writer, my challenge has been to depict her struggle and thus I have to ask myself the various what ifs. What if I actually did have to worry about all those things I mentioned in the opening paragraph? What’s it like to feel abandonment, betrayed, rejected, by someone I trust? Would my character walk away from a fight or confront her aggressor? Sometimes I have to dig deep inside to understand/feel those emotions. At other times, it’s staring me square in the eyes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fried Brains

It's certainly been an interesting few days for me. Last Thursday, I finished a manuscript and sent it to my editor - and suddenly I've found myself with nothing that needs to be written.

Oh, I have plenty of things I could write. I just don't have anything I HAVE to write. This is really unusual for me, and since I'm not used to it any more, I find myself at a loss. And I haven't written anything at all.

I feel like the idea guy in this great video that represents every writer out there who's ever had a friend "help" them come up with a plot for their book.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Dog Stealer

Copyright aaron paul lazar 2010, all rights reserved

Dear Daughter,

I don’t mean to do it. It’s not like I use beef-flavored deodorant or hide doggie treats under my mattress. Nor do I blow the silent whistle every night to get them to pile onto my bed. They just want to sleep with me. All three of them.

I don’t call them upstairs. I don’t pat the mattress and make kissy noises. In fact, I hope they decide to stay with you, dear daughter, instead of me, because all night long I’m pinned beneath furry masses, desperately trying to find a spot for my knees and feet.

It’s been like this since you moved home. And I wish it was different!

I wake up ten times during the week with sore shoulders and hips, needing to flip. Amber lays like a lump on my feet, not next to them, her fifteen pounds feels like fifty. Balto curls beside me, his spine pushing me sideways so that I have about ten inches of mattress. And little Domino hops from side to side each time I turn, jumping into the cave of my knees with the alacrity of a circus dog.

I try to move Amber from my legs – she doesn’t budge. I have to gently pick her up and slide her lumpy little body sideways. Quickly, very quickly, I need to move and reposition, but usually she finds the spot before me and I need to either give in or move her again.

It’s not the ideal sleeping condition, for sure. Okay, so they keep me warm on really cold nights. But for me, they’re all Three Dog Nights, whether it’s frigid February or sweltering summer.

Anyway, dear daughter, sorry about being the dog stealer. It sure wasn’t intentional. Until we can convince the dogs otherwise, I think I need a bigger bed.


Note: Photo above is my grandson Julian with Balto when he was a pup - love this picture and couldn't resist using it. ;o) 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Developing a Marketing Plan

by Kim Smith

So you have finished your book and are in the throes of the submission phase. What comes next? A contract? Then what? MARKETING IT! That very thought sends chills down the spine of most authors today because it is a feat to accomplish in this hard-scrabble world of publishing.

Everyone who writes a book these days should have a marketing plan. It is imperative that we plan for success. That old adage is if you fail to plan you will plan to fail is ever so true in this matter.

So! What goes into a marketing plan? Well, it can get deep and involved or can be a simple thing. I am giving you only a sampling of what you can put in yours.

One line blurb (elevator pitch)
A one paragraph blurb (back cover copy)
Write a short description of what kind of book it is.
What is it about?
Who wants to read it?
When is it going to be available?
How much money can you put into marketing it?
A press kit (include photo of you and cover, as well as bio, etc.)
How will you promote it locally? Newspapers, radio, television etc.
Regionally? Nationally? Internationally?
On the Internet? Website, blogs, social networking, You Tube, email, book reviewers

Once you have these items written out, you should have a pretty clear picture of what you need to be doing.

Now, plot your course. What should I be doing six months before release, three months before, two weeks before, day of etc.?

Remember that book reviewers usually need the book way in advance in order to be of use to you in your promotions.

Find out from your publisher about purchasing your copies. Do you get a break on the cost? Just how many books do you need for a book signing anyway? How about a giant poster with your cover on it to use for a backdrop at a signing?

All important questions and items to consider as you plan your marketing strategy. If you have more to contribute to this article, please feel free!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Blogging Madness

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

Think back. Do you remember what your day was like before you started to blog? I do. I joined my first writers’ forum in 2004 and started my first blog, Prose & Musings in 2006. Before the online social networks, before e-mail, before the demands of online communication, I vividly remember having time to write. I also had time to do a sundry list of other must-do tasks that I have since shoved to the back burner and now only once in a while glance at.

Today, with two books published and two in the works, I blog in order to keep my name in front of readers and those I hope to attract with my next novel, if it ever gets to the finish line. Right now, I’m blogging about my writing progress on Prose & Musing. The logic behind it is that making the commitment to blog every day about my progress forces me to actually do something in my writing life. So far it seems to be working.

Blogging has certainly also increased my online networks and given me a chance to meet interesting and talented people along the way. At the same time, it's eaten away at my time when I wasn’t looking. Add to this, being a part of two blogs in which I/we promote other writers, Murder By 4 and my new blog (crazy me) Novel Works and time becomes a real precious commodity. I love these blogs because 1) I like book promotions/helping other writers, 2) They keep me in touch with other writers, but I find I’m constantly struggling to regain balance in my life.

Anyway, I thought I’d share something I read in a newsletter I receive from a group called Funds For Writers  earlier this year. The title of this piece is, “Blogging No-Nos.” Here it is in its entirety. By the way, writing and posting this little piece just took 55 minutes not counting planning time. Multiply those 55 minutes by the number of blogs I own/visit/post to and before I know it, my day is shot.

* * *
I'm borrowing a few of these rules from Sonia Simone, the senior editor of . Some of these lessons are common sense, others should be. But most of us have blogs these days, and those who don't are pondering whether they need one. Know what makes a meaningful blog. You don't want a blog just to have one. It needs a theme, purpose and take-away value. Who cares what you had for dinner? Do people really want to know what your children did lately, unless your blog is strictly a family communication tool? Sure your daughter's Halloween costume is adorable, but is that snippet of writing worth other people's minutes in a day filled with many other stops and obligations, online and off?

In a way, a blog is a window to you. Some use it like a memoir. The truth is, a memoir is a hard work to sell. Unless you have a remarkable, uncanny ability to project your life in a way that takes away someone's breath, the bottom line is...who cares?

Know these common blogging mistakes:

1. Taking more than you give. Don't sell instead of filling your customers' needs. Even if you have a product to sell, make sure your readers leave with more than they paid for.

2. Not updating regularly. This lack of effort reflects on your respect for the readership. At least two times a week is decent.

3. Fast writing without much thought, just to make a post. You know what I'm talking about. No one knows better than the writer himself when his writing is lame, and he writes just to fill up space.

4. Copy-catting. Be unique, don't copy someone else's blog. You want to be known for you, not the shadow of someone else. If you're serious about your blog, also consider a different background that isn't a standard template offered to millions of other bloggers.

5. Don't write about a topic that isn't appealing to the masses. If a thousand people wouldn't be interested, don't blog about it. A good sign of this flaw is lack of comments.

6. Over writing. Keep it to the point. I try to keep blog posts under 300 words. From personal experience, I know that a long post won't be read. I usually stop around 100 words.

I'll stop at 300 words if it's interesting. I'll read the entire post if it's short or if it's phenomenal. Few fall into the latter category . . . very few. Tweeters often retweet great blog posts. And great bloggers often tweet. Blogs can contain fantastic writing, trigger wonderful writing ideas, and educate with an entertaining twist. Always be on the lookout for a few good blogs. Reading blogs equates to reading the paper, if you take the time to find those of quality. Once you recognize what you like, note the strengths of the author's work - that magic that keeps bringing you back.

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),
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