Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do Publishers Edit Books Anymore? by Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Hi, folks. 

Today I've stumbled upon another great blog I'd like to share with you. Please join me in welcoming Rachelle Gardner to Murderby4. Rachelle is a literary agent with WordServe Literary Group who has a unique view on the industry. Please share your own experiences below in the comments section.

Welcome, Rachelle!

Aaron Lazar

Every time time I mention a publisher’s “editorial process,” invariably multiple commenters will mention the “fact” that publishers no longer edit. Others will talk about the terrible mistakes they find in published books, and decry the publishing industry’s lack of standards.

A typical example is David A. Todd’s note on May 2: “…publishers no longer do careful line editing of the book, nor careful proof-reading.”

From my perspective, having been in the trenches for 16 years now, I believe this is an erroneous generalization.

Publishers vary widely in their approach to editing

… and they always have. There are publishers who spend an incredible amount of time and money on editorial excellence, even these days. I know because most of my  authors have had to sweat through rigorous edits. Many books go through a content edit, a line edit, a copy edit, and then not one but two or more rounds of proofreading. That’s a lot of editorial attention! Among my clients and other authors I know, this isn’t the exception. The exception is when this doesn’t happen.

There are other publishers who give a manuscript a quick once-over and call it good. Authors who are with these publishers might have an easier road, but it can be a disappointment in the long run. They want someone to help them shine, and they don’t always get it. Most of the publishers that operate this way have always done so. It’s not a new thing.

And of course, there are publishers who are somewhere in between.

Have budget cuts affected editing?

Many publishers, regardless of where they started on the “editorial spectrum,” have had to cut their budgets, and so there may be less attention to detail. It’s an unfortunate by-product of the difficult financial structure of publishing. But in my experience, the publishers that have always had a commitment to editorial excellence (which is most of the publishers I work with) retain that commitment even today, even amidst budget cuts.

You’re always going to find a mistake here and there in a published book. As Michael Hyatt said on his blog:
Even proofreaders don’t catch every typo. We use multiple proofers on every book at Thomas Nelson. Still, those pesky little errors hide in the shadows and only show up once the book is printed. (I swear!) How much proofing is enough? Most of us can’t afford perfection.

What about mistakes in published books?

As for those of my readers who bring to our attention all the terrible errors you find in books, I can just say, (1) I’m sorry you have to suffer through this; (2) I read a LOT of books, and aside from a small typo here and there, I’m not seeing what you’re seeing. So it’s hard for me to speak to something I haven’t personally observed.

In any case, most authors who are publishing with commercial, advance-and-royalty-paying print publishers would report that they’ve gone through one or more rounds of editing with their publisher. And many of them went through an editing process with their agent, too.

So is it true that “publishers no longer edit”?

I don’t think so. Many are needing to spend less time and money on editing than they used to. But overall, I think most publishers’ level of commitment to editorial excellence has remained stable, regardless of where they started on the spectrum.

Contracted/published authors: Tell us about your editorial experience with your publisher.

Readers: If there’s something that makes you think “publishers no longer edit,” what is it? What have you personally observed?



Rachelle is a literary agent, voracious reader and lover of books, a mom, a firefighter’s wife, and a huge fan of Starbucks (as well as local Colorado coffees like Firedance and Serranos). She's an agent with WordServe Literary Group based in Denver, founded by mentor Greg Johnson. (Click to meet the other members of the WordServe team.) She never gets tired of talking about books and publishing, and working with authors is her dream job.

Follow her blog, here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Murder The Hard Way

© Wayne Zurl 2011 all rights reserved

On June 28th, 2005, I submitted my latest article to Buckskinner magazine. I called it The Bumppo Travel Agency; a travelogue of text and photos of Cooperstown, New York. The piece was geared towards those living historians interested in the exploits of Nathaniel Bumppo and his faithful Mohican companion Chingachgook. Some readers may know the pair as Hawkeye and the man who truly was THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.

For two years I had been writing a regular column called Cooperstown, dealing with the Early American fiction of James Fenimore Cooper. I was a retired cop turned writer. The readers I met loved my articles. They loved the magazine. Then something unusual happened. The publisher of Buckskinner hadn’t acknowledged my submission. Damned unusual; he always responded promptly, always sounded pleased, and always paid me on time. I sent a few more emails which went unanswered. A few days later, I learned the magazine went bankrupt. And I learned something about the periodical business—don’t publish an all color magazine on high quality paper for a reasonable price unless you’ve got thousands and thousands of subscribers.

So, I was retired and unemployed.

After the turn of the next year, I picked up a copy of Robert B. Parker’s novel NIGHT PASSAGE. He told the story of ex-LAPD detective Jesse Stone who had been fired for alcoholism. Based on the Americans With Disabilities Act, I’m not sure that could happen as depicted, but it made one hell of a story. Dejected, separated from his beautiful wife, and only thirty-five years old, Jesse applied for the job of police chief in the small town of Paradise, Massachusetts. He was hired and Parker began a successful series of police mysteries.

I loved the book. I had read most of Parker’s Spenser stories and found Jesse and Paradise just as interesting. After I closed the cover and drained my second glass of Glenfiddich, I said, “If Parker can do it, so can I. I was a cop and he wasn’t.” I hadn’t written anything in six months and needed a creative outlet.

I began devising a plan. I’d have a former New York detective find a police chief’s job in Tennessee. Since I worked for twenty years in New York and now lived in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, I’d stick with the author’s maxim of “write about what you know.” My hero would be retired (like me) not fired (like Jesse). He’d be married to a beautiful woman (like me) not about to be divorced (like Jesse). He’d drink scotch (like me) but not be an alcoholic (like Jesse). Cool! I had a modicum of success writing non-fiction. How difficult could it be getting fiction published? I’d write about cases I worked on or knew about in New York. I’d embellish them, fictionalize everything, and transplant them in Tennessee. Easy, huh?

For almost a week I talked with my wife (the beautiful one) and formulated a basic story she and I thought would make a good novel. I hadn’t written any fiction since school. Some defense attorneys called my prosecution worksheets pure fiction, but they were prejudiced. But how hard could it be? I asked again. It’s like riding a bicycle or hitting a softball. Everything comes back once you start.

So, with no formal training in creative writing, I grabbed a yellow pad and Holiday Inn Express pen and began writing something called MURDER IN THE SMOKIES. A few weeks and 45,000 words later I finished, typed it into a Word document, and proof read it. I thought it was the cat’s ass. I envisioned sequels. DEATH IN THE SMOKIES, METH IN THE SMOKIES, THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN BANK ROBBERY—you get the idea.

I pondered over a name for my protagonist and called him Sam Jenkins after my maternal grandfather. That sounded like a fictional detective. I called the small city where he’d be chief Prospect. A community named Prospect was founded in 1784 no more than five miles from where I lived, but it never incorporated and never got its own zip code. Today only the memory of Prospect remains.

Then I learned a little about query letters; a little, but not enough. I wrote a two page standard business letter that talked about my book and me, and sent out a dozen to literary agents I found in a library book. I received twelve rejections with no one reading a word of my novel. Only one agent commented, “45,000 words is too short for a novel.” How should I know? Who counts words in someone else’s book?

I started over. At 84,000 words I thought I was finished again. I sent out more letters and got more rejections. Then I spotted a publisher who dealt exclusively with mysteries. I sent them a letter and fifty pages. A few months later I received another letter. They weren’t interested, but their acquisitions editor did say she thought I wrote well, but disliked all the back-story in the first chapters.

“Hey,” I said, “Parker used seventy-nine pages of set up to provide back-story on Jesse Stone in NIGHT PASSAGE. How do you tell the readers about a character unless you tell his story? I enjoyed what he did. It made sense. It held my attention. Why can’t I do it? What is back-story anyway?

I bought a copy of Stephen King’s book ON WRITING to learn how the big guys do it. He spent several pages addressing back-story and referred me to his 1998 novel BAG OF BONES. King said: Get it out of the way up front, and he spent more than eighty pages doing so in BOB. Stephen was a success. He probably owned half of Maine. Why couldn’t I do it his way?

I hired a professional editor and “book doctor” to do a manuscript evaluation and help me write a new query letter. His first email was encouraging. He said, in part: I wrote with a good voice. He liked my main character; he was memorable and had true grit. The story was good and worth salvaging. Salvaging?

He taught me things like: trim down, flesh out, arrive late – leave early, and passive slows – active propels. I didn’t have to be a great writer; I had to be a great rewriter.

I began revising the book and changed the title to A NEW PROSPECT. It held a triple meaning, one for me and two for the readers. A couple months later I had an almost finished product. The pro liked it. I joined an on-line writer’s workshop and solicited other opinions.

When I really had a completed manuscript, I began querying agents again. Still no luck. I assumed a middle-aged cop working in east Tennessee held less interest than the current crop of vampires, zombies, and teen-age werewolves that was burning up the book stores. So, I found all the publishers who would accept submissions directly from an author and I began, promising myself to accept the first reasonable contract offered.

In January 2011 A NEW PROSPECT was traditionally published. In May of this year it was named best mystery of 2011 and won an Indie at the Next Generation Independent Publishing Professional’s Book Awards. Today it’s available in print and various eBook formats from all the usual sources.

About the author:

Wayne Zurl grew up on Long Island and retired after working for twenty years with the Suffolk County Police Department, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in New York and the nation. For thirteen of those years he served as a section commander supervising investigators.

Prior to his police career, Zurl served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the reserves.

In 2006 he began writing crime fiction. Seven of his Sam Jenkins mysteries have been produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. His first full-length novel, A New Prospect, traditionally published by Black Rose Writing, debuted in January 2011.

Zurl left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Barbara.

For more information about Zurl or his writing, visit Follow his book signing tour at

Connect with Wayne at Twitter at!/waynezurl   or Facebook at .

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review for A PLACE TO DIE by Dorothy James

Hello, all.

I "met" Dorothy James not long ago through Kindle. This was a random, yet fortunate encounter. Because I adore Vienna, I couldn't help buying her book set in that gorgeous locale. Here's a review for her literary mystery, A PLACE TO DIE: an Inspector Georg Buechner Mystery.

Warmest regards and remember to write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar
Title:  A Place to Die
Author: Dorothy James
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation (April 21, 2010)
Genre: Mystery, 436 pages
ISBN-10: 1450082696
ISBN-13: 978-1450082709
Price: Kindle eBook: $7.69; Paperback: $18.71; Hardcover: $34.95
Publisher website address:
Author’s personal website:

A PLACE TO DIE is an intriguing story set in Austria, reminiscent of a good English mystery. I just finished reading it last night, and am already missing the characters. At first I was attracted to the book because it was set in Wien (Vienna) - I adore Wien. But then as I "visited" with these folks night after night (reading a little in bed each night), I grew terribly fond of them.

I was particularly rooting for American Eleanor Fabian, a woman of great depth who deserved much more in life than her annoying husband provided. I'm passionate about marriage and devotion in real life, I believe that once married one is duty-bound to stay married and devoted to each other, unless there's something truly awful going on. But Dorothy James convinced me otherwise with Eleanor.

I enjoyed getting to know the other characters in the Haus Im Wald, too. Each was colorful, deliciously unique, and memorable. Inspector Georg Buchner is a fun lead, likeable as well as clever.

Ms. James' vivid scene painting placed me smack dab in the middle of winter in Austria, and I felt as if I knew the Haus intimately by the end of the book. (I also craved Kaffee und Kuchen many times during the characters' dining events!)

As people start dropping dead in the Haus im Wald, the tension builds. But never did Ms. James relinquish her literary approach to the situation, providing a steady source of introspection balanced with action and character development.

The ending is most satisfying - a delightful and unexpected villain is revealed - and some of the sexual twists and innuendos were most surprising and added a bit of spice to the story as well.

Ms. James writes smoothly, with no annoying typos or needs for extra editing which seems to be more and more prevalent these days when books are converted to Kindle format. This book was beautifully formatted and of very high caliber.

I recommend this complex, highbrow-yet-addicting story, and look forward to future works by Dorothy James.


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries, Moore Mysteries, and Tall Pines 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 website at and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, TERROR COMES KNOCKING (2011), FOR KEEPS (2012), FOR THE BIRDS(2011), ESSENTIALLY YOURS (2012), DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (2012), and the author’s preferred edition of DOUBLE FORTÉ (2012).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Writing Is Not Lonely, But Avoiding It Is!

Hi, folks.

You may have noticed your favorite Murderby4 hosts are not around as much as usual these days. That's because we elected to give ourselves a break this summer, and grab back some writing time. We usually post on Tuesdays (Ron), Wednesdays (Marta), Thursdays (Kim) and Sundays (me), and offer guest posts Mondays and Fridays.

We've closed submissions for the summer (except those who already subbed and were accepted last spring), but we're not totally giving up the ghost! No, we'll be here off and on, and some will post special pieces like Ron did for Father's Day. Great piece, by the way, if you didn't catch it. 

Anyway, when I'm browsing around the web on writers' sites, I'm going to pick up select articles or essays that "speak" to me to share with you. (with the author's permission, of course!) 

I landed on Andrea Cumbo's site purely by accident a few weeks ago. Her blog piece spoke to me, and I instantly knew I wanted our readers to be able to enjoy it, too. So, please join me in welcoming writer Andrea Cumbo, of, to MB4 today. And check out her blog - she does a great job of keeping it up!

So, enjoy your summer. And remember, if you love to write - Write Like the Wind!
- Aaron Lazar

Writing Is Not Lonely, But Avoiding It Is!
all rights reserved, copyright 2011 Andrea Cumbo

You’ll never know what you’re made of until you sit long enough with the writing to move through the pulls for companionship (whether virtual or “real”). — Laraine Herring

I am agitated at the core of myself these days. Obviously, something is happening in my spirit – some cleansing, some burning off of the chaff, some rearranging of the fragments of myself – and I am tired, teary, and baffled with life most minutes of most days.

If I was smart, I’d be buried in words because of this. I’d fill pages and pages with the outpourings of my spirit. I’d read all day and all night. I’d let the rich curves and jagged spikes of language smooth me back to the place of peace.

But I am not smart. Instead, I run from words. I seek out distraction – Facebook, email, conversation – and I tell myself these are the things I need for my “work.” I am lying to myself. I am not working; I am trying to be less lonely.

“Writing is lonely.” People say this all the time; I’ve said it. But the truth is that writing isn’t lonely, not for me. As
Laraine says, “I don’t feel lonely when I’m working. I feel the loneliness when I am avoiding working, when I’m distracting myself from the story or essay.”

When I write, I feel like I’ve walked into a forest where even the trees speak companionship to me. In my writing, I find a spaciousness, a richness, an abundance that restores me to wholeness. As I write, I find the companionship of myself to be quite enough.

So the struggle I have is not with loneliness but with fear, the fear that just one time I will come to the page and find it empty. It has never failed me, yet I fear it will. So I avoid, I busy myself, I seek out people when I know that human companionship will only aggravate me. I lie and say I am simply “working” when I am doing the farthest thing from it.

I must cocoon myself with my words and with my self. I must trust that this will be enough . . . as it always has been and always will be.


Andrea's blog –


Andrea Cumbo is a writer and writing teacher who is currently lives in rural Central Virginia. She is writing a book about the people who were enslaved on the plantation where she was raised and working to keep her cats from bringing live frogs as sacrificial gifts. She blogs daily at

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Manuscript Format for Novels, by Glen Strathy

Good morning, friends and writers!

You all probably know by now that we're taking a summer sojourn from our normal schedule here at MB4. But as I come across helpful or interesting pieces, I'm going to randomly post them here.

This week I stumbled upon a site that promises to be very helpful to new writers. I know our audience is broad - we are blessed with newbies and seasoned professionals - but it's always nice to have a place to refer to for the basics, such as manuscript formatting.

Glen Strathy, from How to Write a Novel Now, has graciously agreed to share this info with us today. Please join me in welcoming him to Murderby4.

-Aaron Lazar

Manuscript Format for Novels

The manuscript format used in publishing has evolved over time as technology has changed, but if you grew up with word processors, it may seem rather quaint, old-fashioned, and downright boring to look at. Word processors come with many desktop publishing capabilities that you may be tempted to use. And if you were working in any other business, you would probably use them to give your document a distinctive and attractive look.However, if you are submitting your book to agents and/or publishers, it is best to forget about all that and follow the correct manuscript format for publishing that was developed back in the days before word processors existed and professional writers used typewriters.
There are several reasons why this format became standard.

1. It's easier for editors to read.

Think about this. Editors and agents spend all day and often the evening reading. By the time they are good at their jobs, they have a lot of experience with eyestrain and are prejudiced against any document that is hard to read. Manuscript format is designed to be easy to read, with plenty of white space and no distractions.

2. It makes editing easier.

Despite the fact that everyone uses computers, many editors still like to look at a hard copy and make editing marks in pencil between lines and in margins. They need room to do this.

3. Publishers have developed systems for estimating word counts.

I know, word processors today can count the words in a manuscript with one simple click. But publishers have their own system. They're not interested so much in the actual number of words you've written but how much paper they need to print them on. When you follow the standard manuscript format, you will have an average of 10 words per line (assuming an average of five letters and one space per word). You will also have an average of 25 lines per page. Therefore, publishers can assume there are 250 words per page. Simple, eh? If you use the correct font, one in which each letter takes up the same amount of space, it becomes very easy for the publisher to know how many pages the final book will need.If you use a non-standard manuscript format with different spacing and margins, you will create an extra headache for the editor you're trying to impress.

4. Editors are used to manuscript format.

When your manuscript is formatted the standard way, your editor can put his/her full attention on your words without being distracted by any non-standard typography.

5. Readers also expect standard format.

At times in the 20th century, literary writers experimented with the art of typography – creating books that could not be read aloud but had to be looked or felt, where the text was as much visual art as language. One reason it didn't catch on with the general public is because it made more work for the reader. Readers expect a certain look to a book and anything non-standard (like ALL CAPS or too many exclamation marks) looks amateurish!!!

(For example, you may notice that on this website I tend to use Canadian spelling, because it's what I grew up with. If I was being paid to write this article, I might adopt a different convention. However, if you are American or British you may find Canadian spelling irritating, and for that I apologize.)

So here, briefly, are the rules for using correct manuscript format for a novel:

* White paper. No coloured paper or electronic files with coloured backgrounds.
* Single-sided. (Obviously this applies to hard copies.) Editors don't expect to look at the back of a page.
* Standard font: Courier, 12 point, is the standard font to use in manuscript format. This size is easy to read and makes all the letters take up the same amount of space on a line, so word counts are easy. Don't change fonts or sizes anywhere.
* Double space your manuscript, but don't put any extra space between paragraphs. Again, it's easy to read and leaves room for editing marks.
* Only one space between words or sentences. (Traditionally, typists put an extra space after periods and colons, but this has been abandoned by publishers as a waste of space and paper.)
* 1-inch margins top, bottom, left, and right. This should give you 60 characters per line on average (10 words) and 25 lines per page.
* Ragged, not justified alignment. Word processors can do justified alignment, whereby all the lines end flush with the right-hand margin, but don't do it. It changes the spacing between words in a way that is distracting.
* Include a header on every page except the title page. The header should put the page number in the upper right hand corner. This makes it easy to tell, when flipping through the manuscript, if a page has gone missing. Left of the page number, put your name and the title of your book, or a shortened version of each (for example “Dickens/Two Cities 25”). If a page gets separated from your manuscript and mixed up with other papers, this information will help someone put it back in place.
* Title page. The title page will have the book's title centred, half-way down the page. Underneath that, also centred, put “By” followed by the author's name. In either the top left or bottom right corner, provide your contact details: name, address, phone number, email address. On the opposite side of the page, put your estimated word count.
* No bold, italics, or any other font effects. You can underline foreign words, titles, and things you want to emphasize, just as you would if you were using a typewriter (publishers will convert underlining to italics). Black is the only acceptable font colour.
* Don't add hypens to break up words at the end of a line. Most people wouldn't think to do this unless they had trained as a typist. But just in case you did, don't. The line divisions will change in the printed book, which means someone will have to go through the manuscript and remove many of the hyphens you add. So just leave them out.
* Start the first chapter 6 double-spaced lines down from the top of the next page. Centre the chapter title or use “Chapter 1” if you don't want chapter titles. Then hit return twice to leave extra space before the story starts. Start every chapter on a new page, with a similar title.
* Put “End” at the bottom of the last page, so the editor knows for certain it's the last page.
* Do not bind or staple your pages together, or include a cover. Editors want the pages to lie flat. They don't want to hold the manuscript open. Just stack the pages in order and pack them into a box.
Of course, in addition to following the correct manuscript format you will need to check all your spelling, grammar, and punctuation before you submit your novel. Mistakes in these areas damage your credibility with an editor, as well as showing that your manuscript still needs much work.

Glen C. Strathy has earned his a living as a freelance writer since 1999, writing non-fiction, direct response promotional copy, and fiction. Working with Stephen Leeb, he co-wrote The Coming Economic Collapse (Warner Business Books, 2006), which became both a New York Times Business Bestseller and a Business Week Bestseller and contributed to Game Over (Business Plus, 2009).His novel for 9-12 year-olds is currently in production under the working title of Dancing on the Inside. You can find out more about it at... Glen Strathy's other website

Glen holds a B.A. in English and Drama and an M.A. in English from the University of Western Ontario. He received a B.Ed. from Queen's University, Kingston after completing the Artist in Community Education program, and studied acting and directing at Ryerson Theatre School. He is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC).

Glen lives with his wife, fellow writer Kaitlin Rainey, and their daughter in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Interview with Author Tom Drinkard

Please join me in welcoming Tom Drinkard to Murderby4 today. Tom is a prolific writer with a fascinating history, and we're pleased to have him here. Welcome, Tom!

 - Aaron Lazar

APL: Tell us about your new novel, Piety and Murder. Where did you get the idea for the story?

TD: Piety and Murder is the story of Mack Brinson, who has lost the love of his life. His only family consists of his dead wife’s mother, Huong, and a Bull Terrier. A phony, predatory televangelist’s organization is virtually stealing from Huong, promising séances with her daughter’s spirit. When Brinson confronts the organization, he is threatened. When he pushes harder, he’s ambushed in a running gun battle on the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway. From that point, the book accelerates to a hostage rescue and a final confrontation. My page on the Independent Author Network’s website, has a short synopsis, trailer and a sample.

APL: How closely do the challenges your character faces mirror the experiences you had as a Green Beret?

TD:  Among other incidents and missions; years ago, I helped plan a prisoner rescue mission. It didn’t happen because of politics and world events. Enough said.

APL: Do you base any of your characters on the pals you had in the Green Beret days? Can you see yourself in any of the characters?

TD:  Of course. Most of the men are composites of people I knew, both good and bad. I can see elements of my personality in Mack Brinson. His quick temper is something I share and have worked to defeat. There are some who would say I share the smartass gene with Brinson.

APL: Tell us about the setting and locale for your new book. Is it somewhere you've been or lived?

TD:  If you visit Metairie, LA (a suburb of New Orleans), you’ll find some of the places mentioned in the book. The Morning Call Coffee Stand (wonderful café au lait and beignets) is an example. For years, I taught classes in Metairie from five to eight days every month. I also know Mobile, AL pretty well because of teaching and visiting there.

APL: Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.

TD:  Receiving emails from people who, while reading the book, simply couldn’t stop. One complained that she stayed awake until 3 AM finishing the book.

APL: Who are your favorite authors? Were you influenced by them when writing Piety and Murder?

TD:  My most powerful influences in writing the book are, in no particular order, John D. McDonald, Robert B. Parker and James Lee Burke. Each of them taught me different things and their books are a permanent part of my library.

APL: Will there be a sequel?

TD:  There is a prequel, titled Where There Were No Innocents. It is scheduled for publication in June 2011. The cover and a sample are on my blog, Pinnacle Writing. I’ve started a direct sequel but other projects are currently taking precedence.

APL: Where do you write? Do you have a special routine or location that helps your muse?

TD:  I write best in my messy office. Sometimes music helps; Beethoven is good for calling my muse.

APL: Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects?

TD:  I have a completed novel, Devil’s Blade, in completely different settings and with new characters. One of them is the ghost of a Voodoo queen. As soon as editing and proofreading are complete, I’ll publish. A work in progress is called Overload. It is, as some of the old ads said, “Torn from today’s headlines.” There are others, including a space opera and a fantasy (vampire) book. I plan to have at least five books on the electronic shelves by the end of 2011.


Tom's newest book, PIETY AND MURDER (click to order):

cover art by Terre Britton

WHERE THERE WERE NO INNCOCENTS - prequel to PIETY AND MURDER, is scheduled for release this month.

Tom graduated from the University of North Alabama with a degree in English.  At graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army and went on active duty eight days later.

Within two years, he volunteered and was accepted into the Special Forces (Green Berets) after Airborne and Special Forces school, he’d found a home. With a few other assignments in between, he spent ten years with the fabled unit. He was unhappy with the Army’s plans for his future and left active duty and moved into the reserves.    

He is now a Major, retired reserves. After the Army, he found his way into teaching and writing in the securities licensing preparation business.    

His textbooks, articles and CE courses are in use today. His poetry can be found in a number of literary magazines, including Negative Capability, Cotton Boll/Atlanta review and a several others.   Piety and Murder published by LazyDay Publishing is his first piece of long fiction to be published.   

Thomas is currently working on a prequel.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Some Things You Never Outgrow

copyright 2009 Ron Adams

Author's note: This is an article published in the Buffalo News a couple of years ago just about Father's Day. I submit this for your approval in honor of Father's Day, fathers everywhere, and in honor of MSgt Herbert W. Adams, my mentor, my friend, and my Dad. Semper F1.

It was a bad week. We all have them, kids and adults alike. Everything I touched broke, everything I tried to do became undone and it seemed the harder I tried the further behind I wound up.

Even the end of the workday brought no relief. The traffic was brutal, the never-ending construction on Route 5 slowed everything to a crawl for no apparent reason and, to be honest, I was still stressed over my wife’s recent surgery for a spinal tumor.

My parents had been helping out a lot with the house and taking care of Trish while I was working, so they were there at the house when I arrived.

Dinner was quiet, tense, and it was all because of the black cloud following me that day. It settled right in with me, bringing the misery and gloom of my bad day to those who had no idea it was coming.

I grunted responses to mundane questions. I snapped at my kids, who after all were just being kids. I was such miserable company that if I didn’t have to be around me, I would have left the table. If they were honest with me, I think my whole family shared that particular sentiment.

So it was with a gentle nudge my wife reminded me that my father had worked on and apparently fixed my chain saw, and brought his as well. I had been meaning to do some clean up in the woods behind the house, cutting up some fallen tress from the winter’s storms. I couldn’t think of a better way to work out my hostility than to make short work of the fallen trees.

My father didn’t say anything, but the two of us rose from the table, me still in my work clothes, khakis and a polo shirt. My wife asked if I was going to change first. I shook my head, and went straight to the garage. We grabbed the saws and headed for the grove of downed trees in the back of our property, debris from the hard winter I had been meaning to get cleaned up.

The saws roared to life, ripping through the wood with ease. In short, we made big logs small and downed trees into firewood for the backyard summer fire pit. Then, half covered in sweat and wood chips, and smelling of gas and oil fumes, we talked.

It seems there are some things you never outgrow. I don’t think I really needed to cut logs that night, but I needed my Dad.

Throughout my adult life, my parents were never more than a phone call away. My wife and I moved from New York to Pennsylvania to Ohio, and always managed to keep in contact with my folks.

But that night, at that time, I needed my Dad. He has a quiet strength, born of a confident been-there-done-that approach to almost everything. Maybe it comes from being the oldest boy in a large Irish Catholic family. Maybe it comes from his years in the Marine Corps. It could be from his years of hard work and sacrifice for his family, being the unsung hero to his four sons.

Over the years, I have tried to learn from his example, and be the best example I can be for my own son and daughter. Time will tell, I suppose, but Danny and Katie tell me so far, so good.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing from the Psyche, by Joan Hall Hovey

all rights reserved, copyright 2011, Joan Hall Hovey

“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” -Willa Cather

We’re told to write with passion or write from the heart, and while this is good advice, I take it further. I suggest you write from the Psyche.

When I say that, I mean writing from those places inside your  memory that stay with you, that delight you, and even haunt you. The memory can be a joyful one, like a trip to the carnival at night when you were a child, with all the lights, the smell of candied apple and french fries in the air, the musical rides, the lure of the sideshow barker. Can you still feel that excitement churning in your stomach?

Or maybe it was a darker memory- a time when you were chased down the street by a stalker. Can you still hear those running footsteps behind you?  Feel your heart thudding in your breast?

What memories haunt you?

The seeds for my latest suspense novel Night Corridor were planted in my childhood.  On Sundays, I accompanied my grandmother to visit an aunt in the New Brunswick Provincal Hospital, later changed to Centracare, once called The Lunatic Asylum. She’d spent much of her life within those walls.  They said she was ‘melancholy’.

That sprawling, prison-like building with bars on the windows, has long since been torn down, the sights, sounds and smells of the place infiltrated the senses of the 12 year old girl I was, and never left.  Recently, a local paper did a story on Night Corridor. They included an old postcard photo of the mental institution taken in 1905, and it looked almost like a pleasant rest home with trees in front.  A clever photographer had managed to capture a small piece of the building shot at an attractive angle, not at all how it really looked.

She was always so glad to see us.  She wore makeup, and beads and read poetry to me. She seemed like a movie star, but of course I knew better. I didn’t really understand why she couldn’t come home.
Further research led me to a diary I read written by a woman named Mary Heustis Pengilly, in 1885.

But while Night Corridor was inspired by my aunt, and influenced by Mrs. Pengilly,  it is not about them.  Fiction can be drawn from life, but it is filtered through the writer’s imagination.  Your characters are not you. They are people in their own right with their own hearts and minds. You breathe life into them by infusing them with your own emotions, based on your life experiences.  In this way you are connected to them.

I don’t try to force those connections, but I do invite them, long before I begin the novel. Something that I can grasp in my writer’s imagination and make something of.  A kind of alchemy, turning lead into gold.  At least that’s the intention.  I’m not aware that I’m working out childhood issues, but I’m sure they play a part.  Once I begin to relive that memory, complete with sensory details – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, I invite the character into that world.  It helps that I can remember with more vividness my childhood, then I can tell you what happened last Tuesday.  This method may not work for every writer, but it works for me.

This is the building in my memory.  And it is how Caroline Hill sees it in Night Corridor.

From Chapter 3:

“Pretty fall day,” the cab driver said over his shoulder, and Caroline jumped at the sound of his voice and turned around in the seat. She’d been looking out the back window, watching the prison-like structure of Bayshore Mental Institution, gray and sprawling against the cornflower blue of the sky, grow smaller and smaller. The man’s voice had startled her. But for Doctor Rosen, no man had spoken to her in a very long time.

The cab driver’s shoulders were wide in a maroon blazer of some soft material. His hair was a mass of gray curls and he wore dark sunglasses; she could see them in the rearview mirror.

She couldn’t see his eyes but knew he was looking at her, waiting for her response.

She must say something. It wasn’t like he’d asked her some difficult or personal question, only commented on the weather. Speak up, Dr. Rosen had told her. Hearing your own voice strong in your ears will give you confidence.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, it’s very lovely.”

She settled back in the blue-gray plush seat, enjoying its soft, luxurious feel. The car smelled of new leather, pleasant and mildly reminiscent of something that nudged the edge of her mind. Ah yes, William’s leather jacket. William’s leather jacket. So long ago.

Then I ask myself, What If? What if you were in a mental institution for years, and suddenly put out onto the street.

What would it be like to be Caroline Hill who’d been in Bayshore Mental Institution for nine years.  And then to complicate matters, and further threaten her fragile emotional health, to find herself being stalked by a deadly predator.

But who will believe her? She’s a crazy woman, after all.

When writers talk about the magic or mystery in novel writing, this, in my opinion, is what they’re talking about – the subconscious working away and offering up gems for our use.  Or what Stephen King calls in his splendid book On Writing, ‘the boys in the basement’.  Though writing is a craft in as much as housebuilding is a craft, you have to work at it.  You have to put seat in chair everyday.  You need to develop the skills to turn your story into a publishable manuscript.  But assuming you’re doing that, the subsconscious is the cleverest part of us.  It knows things we can’t even guess at.

Have you noticed that the best ideas don’t always come when you’re consciously trying to come up with something, but when you’re out walking, soaking in the bath, or even while lying in bed at night.  Which is why I always recommend to students that they keep a notebook and pen handy whenever possible.

When you make a connection with that memory from your childhood that is so vivid to you, so present that you can transport yourself back to that time and place in an instant, use it.  It is fodder for the imagination.  And it makes no difference what genre you’re working in – romance, suspense, horror, whatever your cup of tea, you can make something of that memory. It’s  impossible to say exactly how it all works.  Enough that it does. You can take that memory in different directions.  Transplant it to a different time and place. Use those emotional memories as a spider uses its spinneret glands to weave a web.

So the next time you’re stuck for an idea, what about that memory you could never shake?  Maybe it’s time to exorcise it by using it in your next novel.   Give it to one of your characters.


As well as penning Award-winning suspense novels including Chill Waters, Nowhere To Hide and Listen to the Shadows, Joan Hall Hovey‘s articles and short stories have appeared in such diverse publications as The Reader, Atlantic Advocate, The Toronto Star, Mystery Scene, True Confessions, Home Life magazine, Seek and various other magazines and newspapers. Her short story, “Dark Reunion” was selected for the Anthology, Investigating Women, published by Simon & Pierre. The books are available for the Kindle at, and on in multiple formats, as well as in paperback.

Joan also tutors with Winghill Writing School and is a Voice Over pro, narrating books and scripts. She lives in New Brunswick, Canada with her husband Mel and dog, Scamp.

Night Corridor, Joan‘s latest novel, is available in paperback and ebook formats.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Titles, by Pat Bertram

copyright 2011, Pat Bertram

The title of a book is important. It’s the first thing a prospective reader sees . . . or at least it used to be. Now the author’s name comes first and apparently is a much better selling tool than the title ever was. 
A title is still important, however. It often sets the mood for the book, it lays out the theme, and it tantalizes readers into opening the book. Think of Gone With the Wind. With such a title, you expect a wide sweep of a story. The title speaks of loss and perhaps survival in the face of broad changes. Even before you open the book, you are primed to find out what is lost and why it disappeared into the wind. Imagine then, how different your feeling would be if the book had been published under its working title. Pansy. Would the book, the movie, the character have ever had such an impact if that had been the name? Of course not.

Another major work with last minute name changes was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Originally Catch 18, it was changed because of another book that was coming out at the same time: Leon Uris’s Mila 18. And 1984 was originally 1948. So not the same feeling!
Choosing a title is not an easy task. My novels all had simple working titles: The Red Death, The Chameleon, The Gangster Book, The Alien Book, but except for The Red Death, none of those titles were ever possible for the real title.

I considered using the title The Red Death since my quarantine mirrored the middle ages, though in a hi-tech way, but the name had already been used several times. And anyway, from the very first, I’d planned on using A Spark of Heavenly Fire. That was my inspiration for the book, the Washington Irving quote: “There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” I wanted to tell the story of ordinary women, women who seemed colorless in ordinary times, but who blazed brightly in dark times. When I found no takers for the book, I thought perhaps the title didn’t reflect the story, so I changed it to In the Dark Hour. And I got an agent. She couldn’t sell the book, so when my contract was up, I changed the title back to A Spark of Heavenly Fire. And that’s the title Second Wind Publishing released it under.

I had to try several times before I got the title of More Deaths Than One right. The working title was The Chameleon but that was never a real contender since I didn’t want to give the story away. So first I used the Law of the Jungle, which amused me since the jungle was so much a part of the story. Also, at one point I had my hero say that the villain might be above the law, but he wasn’t above the law of the jungle. Both the line in the book and the title ended up being deleted because they were too trite, so next I went with Nature of the Beast. It was adequate, and I would have stuck with it despite its triteness, but then I came across a couplet from Oscar Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol”: He who lives more lives than one/More deaths than one must die. Since my hero appeared to have more lives (and deaths) than one, More Deaths Than One struck me as the perfect title.

Daughter Am I, my gangster book, only had one previous title: Sins of the Fathers, though really it should have been Sins of the Grandfathers. Then I found the Rudyard Kipling quote: “Daughter am I in my mother’s house but mistress in my own.” The quote would have more accurately described the theme of the book if it were “daughter am I in my father’s house,” but I was taken with the title Daughter Am I and decided it was close enough.

Which brings me to my final book, the newly published Light Bringer. Sad to say, I haven’t a single story to tell about the title. Even though the working title was The Alien Book, I always knew the title was Light Bringer. Light is the theme of the book, and the Light Bringer (planet X) was the reason for the story.
So, as a reader, what are your favorite titles? As an author, how did you come up with the names of your books?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview With Author T. J. Ellison

It's my pleasure to welcome author T. J. Ellison to Murder By 4. Ellison is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Taylor Jackson series. Her novels have been published in 22 countries, and she was named "Best Mystery/Thriller Writer of 2008" by the Nashville Scene.

1. Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

I’ve always been a writer. I wrote poems, and short stories, and little books when I was a kid. I always did well in English, especially creative writing. I intended to get an MFA, but my college thesis advisor told me I’d never get published, so I went down the political path. I didn’t come back to real writing for a good ten years. And then I had no idea HOW to do it. So I read everything I could get my hands on, Cornwell and Patterson and Sandford, and finally found my voice.

2. Who has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and become a published author?

My family, my husband especially, always supported my decision to write full time, from the very beginning. John Connolly was the very first author I ever met. He was invaluable to me – just simply giving me the encouragement I needed exactly when I needed it. When I was ready to bag it, he told me all good books find a home. And he was right.

3. Please describe the greatest difficulty you have faced in your writing career, why it was difficult, and how you resolved it.

I think the biggest thing I had to overcome was finding out there was more to writing a book than just writing a book. I had no idea about the publishing business, no idea that there were writers’ organizations, awards, magazines, a whole community. I was writing in a vacuum. Which isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen. Thankfully a few nice folks gave me a lot of good advice at the beginning, so I didn’t stumble and fall flat on my face.

4. What prompted you to write SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH and what do you hope your readers will get from of it?

So Close is the sequel to 14 – it took four books to get to this story. It’s a hugely vital part of the series, the resolution to an over-arching issue that’s been haunting my main character, Taylor Jackson. And it was so much fun to write – it’s fast and creepy and really gives a good look into everyone’s psyche.

5. Who or what influenced you in the development of this character?

Taylor is the embodiment of my own hero complex. She’s complicated, strong, driven, and dedicated. All the things I want to be in my life. She came out of reading John Sandford’s Prey series. I fell hard for Lucas Davenport, and knew I wanted a female version, with Nashville as the backdrop. Taylor leapt fully formed into my head, talking in that low, smoky drawl, and I knew I had to tell her story.

6. Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, and the setting, of this novel.

This is the story of the Pretender, a killer who made appearance in the previous novels. The Pretender has finally become the killer he set out to be. He’s a mimic, has never had a style all his own. That makes him incredibly dangerous, and hard to track. And now he wants to play a game, a game that leads to Taylor Jackson’s door. He’s turned the tables from his role in 14 – instead of being the apprentice, he is now the master. This book was five books in the making, and I’m excited that the showdown between Taylor and the Pretender has come at last.

But of course, unmasking him involves finding out who he really is. That was the fun part, finding out his underlying motivations, why he chose Taylor, why he’s a mimic. The why of the killer – it’s the reason I write these kinds of books. The psychology behind them fascinates me.

7. What impact would you say completing SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH has had on you personally and on your writing?

It’s nice to have it in the bag – and be able to help Taylor move on. He’s been a malicious omnipresent problem for her, and I’m hoping she can get past this. Hoping.
8. Please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the novel chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?

I’m not an outliner; I’m much more an organic writer. I never know where I’ll end up when I start writing for the day. This book is also a sequel, so I’ve known what it would be about for three years.

9. How much and/or what kind of research do you do prior to writing?

I do a lot of research. I’ve been on multiple ride alongs with the homicide team here in town, worked with the FBI, attended autopsies. I like to travel to the locales the book takes place in. It’s important to me to get it right.

10. What do you find the most difficult part of writing in general and what do you do to overcome it?

It’s not really difficult. I love writing. I love creating. It’s a wonderful blessing that’s come upon me, and I’m so glad to have found what I was meant to be doing early enough to really give it a go. If anything, I tend to overcommit myself. I do two books a year, plus a few shorts for anthologies, and fitting everything in can sometimes be difficult. It’s a good problem to have.

11. How do you balance your time to make time for writing?

I’m a full time writer, so this is my job. I work every day, pretty much 7 days a week. About 80 hours a week, all told. I shoot for 1,000 words a day. 12-4 is my best creative time, so the morning is usually spent doing business, and then I settle down after lunch to get my words done. Again, this is fun for me, so it doesn’t really feel like work.

12. What are you working on now?

I’m writing a new book in a new series, and not quite ready to go into detail with it. Soon. Very soon. Suffice it to say it’s a bit of a departure, and I’m loving it!

13. Any words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?

Read everything you can, and write every day. Don’t worry so much about social networking until that book is in fine fettle. Revise, revise, revise, until it’s perfect, then let beta readers take a look and listen to their opinions. And read. Did I mention read? Oh, don’t forget to read.

Thanks so much for having me!

More about the author:
Ellison grew up in Colorado and moved to Virginia during high school. She is a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College and received her master's degree from George Washington University. She was a presidential appointee and worked in The White House and the Department of Commerce before moving into the private sector.

As a financial analyst and marketing director, she worked for several defense and aerospace contractors.
After moving to Nashville, Ellison began research on a passion: forensics and crime. She has worked with the Metro Nashville Police Department, the FBI, and various other law enforcement organizations to research her books. Her short stories have been widely published, and Ellison recently released an anthology of her short fiction called SWEET LITTLE LIES. This includes her award winning story "Prodigal Me" in the anthology Killer Year: Stories to Die For, edited by Lee Child, "Chimera" in the anthology Surreal South 09, edited by Pinckney Benedict and Laura Benedict, and "Killing Carol Ann" in First Thrills, edited by Lee Child.

She is the bi-monthly Friday columnist at the Anthony Award nominated blog Murderati and is a founding member of Killer Year, an organization that was dedicated to raising awareness for the debut novelists of 2007.

Ellison is a member of several professional writing organizations, including International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. She has an active following on Twitter under the name @Thrillerchick, and a robust Facebook community.

She lives in Nashville with her husband and a poorly trained cat.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Book Review for NIGHT CORRIDOR, written by Joan Hall Hovey, reviewed by Aaron Lazar

Title:  Night Corridor
Author:  Joan Hall Hovey
Publisher: BWLPP
Genre: Suspense, 258 pages
Price: Kindle eBook: $2.99  Print Book: $10.79
Publisher website address:
Author’s personal website:

Caroline Hill, a fragile woman who’s seen more than her share of heartbreak, has just been released into the “real” world by the Bayshore Mental Institution, an aging facility recently doomed to closure. Trembling with fear after nine years of incarceration, at the age of twenty-six Caroline is armed only with a handful of memorized phrases from her psychiatrist and a small bag of hand-me-down clothing. She shows up as pre-arranged to a rooming house with a nosy landlady and her marginally challenged nephew, Harold. Once settled, Caroline makes her entrance at Frank’s, a local diner in the small town of St. Simeon, Canada where a dishwashing job awaits her.

Although the Bayshore institution offered safety and familiarity, Caroline is determined not to fail. The last thing she wants is to return to the place where she shared a room with a woman who clicked imaginary knitting needles 24/7.

Caroline’s timing is unfortunate, because the day she arrives in town, a serial killer has left yet another victim for police. And it so happens, the first victim—an aspiring actress on the verge of a breakthrough—lived across the hall from Caroline’s new room. Police and neighbors wonder – could the killer be someone in the rooming house? How did he gain access to the facility? How did he know the first woman? And the second? Both victims were pretty young ladies with brunette hair and blue eyes, Caroline’s exact appearance.

The mystery and suspense in this novel is outstanding, truly top notch, in the vein of Mary Higgins Clark, but—dare I say—even better? What really struck me as brilliant was Ms. Hovey’s ability to paint the picture of an innocent, a woman who’d been raised by an institutional staff since the age of seventeen, when a horrendous event tore her heart out and separated her from reality. Caroline’s inner thoughts, her hesitant and sometimes awkward speech, the turmoil she feels with each simple step toward freedom, her frail courage…each of these felt real and authentic. I grew incredibly fond of this protagonist, and with each brave step she took, I found myself cheering her on.

When Caroline notices a man following her, she wants to tell someone, but what ex-mental patient wouldn’t be afraid to share this news, knowing they’d probably classify her as paranoid and maybe send her back to Bayshore? She squares her shoulders and fights through the fear, soldiering on.

Against the backdrop of Caroline’s painful yet courageous re-entry into society, the low growling drumbeat of violence escalates. More women die, and the pattern heats up. We are given glimpses inside the mind of a seriously sick killer, and realize his delusions stretch far into his past. When Caroline becomes embroiled in the middle of the killer’s elaborate and insane plot to return to a chapter in his history where he was once happy, the action escalates and takes us on a heart-pounding rollercoaster ride to a satisfying finish.

Joan Hall Hovey has written yet another winner. I highly recommend it to any lover of suspense, mystery, romance, or thriller. You’ll not only race through this book, but clamor for more works by this talented and polished author.