Thursday, September 29, 2011

MB4 Interview with Author Kevin E. Lake

by Ron Adams

I first encountered Kevin in a writers group on Yahoo, and I have been a fan of his ever since. I'll let him tell you the story.
Q- First and foremost, welcome to Murder by 4, Kevin. I've been privileged to read your work and wonder exactly how you started your writing career.
A- Thanks for having me here at Murder by 4 Ron. I consider it an honor and am grateful for the invitation. If I were to go back to the very beginning of my writing career, we’d have to go back to the late 1970’s, early 1980’s when I just learned to write. I remember as a young grade school child, writing scary stories and taping them to the outside of my bedroom door for people to read. I had three sisters and both parents, so I was playing to a sizable audience.
I loved any opportunity throughout school to write. I guess I had a love for it and viewed writing assignments as play time, not school work time. It was fun for me. I wrote on my high school’s newspaper as well as my college’s newspaper. I was actually the sports editor. But even during those years I loved to write fiction; scary stories mostly. When I graduated, I had intended to start writing novels. This was thirteen years ago. I had recently gotten married (too young and I’m now happily divorced) and my wife informed me it was time to stop writing. No more haunted Fairy Tales! Get a real job and make real money. So I did, and was miserable for the next 8 years. She left me (FINALLY!) I got back into writing, almost naturally, as if it were a part of life to me. I then decided to get back on track and start publishing my “haunted fairy tales.”
Q- As a writer of horror fiction, what attracted you to that genre?
A- I loved watching scary movies as a kid growing up. I remember watching “Salem’s Lot” and “The Exorcist” as a relatively young child. I was hooked! What kid, young or old, doesn’t love this time of year especially; Halloween, sitting around sharing ghost stories with friends? I remember on the school bus in high school coming back from band trips or sporting events, we’d love to tell scary stories once it got dark.
Last year I had the honor of being the assistant girls-basketball coach at my old high school, Richwood High School in Richwood, West Virginia. Sure enough, on the way home from away games, the girls would crowd around me and ask me to tell them ghost stories. By this time I was a published author and I think they assumed that because of that I had a bottomless supply of ghost stories. I would tell them stories until I ran out then make some up on the spot and swear they were true. The girls loved it. Sometimes they were too scared to drive home from the school once we got back.
I was blessed enough to be a teenager during the 80’s with the “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street" years. However, it seems that in the past twenty years or so, the horror genre has taken a turn and it’s hard to find real, true horror entertainment out there. So I feel I can combine my passions (writing and all things scary) and create some pretty marvelous stories.
Q- Where do you find inspiration for your novels and stories?
A- A lot of the inspiration to go to work, sometimes ten hours a day, writing, reading, editing, comes naturally. I’ve always been a self-starter. I was a distance runner in high school and college so I think that really prepared me for this career. I would spend a lot of time alone back then, running miles upon endless miles, and I had to make myself do it. I loved it, like I do writing, so it was never hard. Writing is similar. Just as a run of fifteen miles begins with the first step, writing a 60,000 word novel begins with the first word. The first sentence, paragraph and chapter. I don’t know how many friends I have who “want to write a book.” Some of them have been talking about the same book for years. When point out to them that we started talking about this years ago, and that I have written three books since then, they ask me what the secret is. There is no secret. Like Nike says; just do it! Just write it!
Q- Tell me about your novel, Serial Street. It has the most interesting premise of any young adult novel I've read in a while.
A- It’s interesting that you ask about that one. Remember I said I wanted to write novels right out of college? Well, this is the first book I had the idea to write. So when I decided I was going to get into it this time around, I went back into the annals of my mind and dusted off the old memory files. The great thing about time having passed though, is that by the time I wrote it, I had three children who I love dearly. Well, I was writing this book while I was deployed in Iraq, away from them. I used them as the main characters as a way of showing them that they were on my mind every day we were apart. That made the book extra special for them. Not just did daddy write it, but they starred in it. 

My beautiful little girls Emily and Olivia, who are 13 (in November) and 11 are always asking me when they are going to make a movie out of the book and tell me that they want to star in the movie when they do. It is the cutest thing. But Ron, you read that book, so you know what it is about; a bunch of copy cat serial killers who all live on the same street, Areal street (nicknamed Serial Street in the book by the two main male characters, one based off of my son Christian, now 16, and his weird friend Jordon). The teens in this story are trying to gather enough information on their neighbors to go to the cops without looking like fools. The neighbors know they are on to them so they are out to eliminate the teens and their families. It is like an intelligent game of cat and mouse. It has been very popular among teens and young adults and it is a fun read for people of all ages.
Q- Your most recent work, A Demon's Dozen, starts the way all good stories start...a man walks into a bar. But from there it takes some very interesting turns. Where did the idea come from to create this collection?
A- I have so many stories in my head. I come up with them sometimes, like you I’m sure, simply by living life; witnessing events. Being in a certain location or setting. Having certain conversations. For instance, in A Demon’s Dozen there is a short story called “Of Love and Wine.” It is about a 300-year-old bottle of Spanish wine that carries a curse from Haiti. I can’t tell you too many details without giving away the story, but the idea for that story came to me while talking to a friend of mine in the Philippines this summer at a dinner party. He had been a private investigator years ago and worked a case where an antique wine collector felt he had been sold a quarter million dollar bottle of fake wine. I didn’t even know people collected wine like that. My mind just ran with the things he told me and a simple case of dirty business turned into a frightening horror story in my head. I put it to paper. 

My point is, I don’t think there is enough time in one person’s life time to write all the stories I have to tell if they were to write each story as a full length novel. So, what I did with A Demon’s Dozen was take twelve different story ideas and boil them down to the bare essentials and wrote them as short stories. They vary in length from roughly 5,000 words to a couple long ones of 12,000 words. I didn’t just put them all in though, I wrapped them comfortably within another, ongoing story, a 13th story so to say; making it a real demon’s dozen. The ongoing story is of that man who walked into a bar. He’s disappointed because he has received yet another rejection letter from a publisher for his writing. While at the bar he meets a stranger who claims to be a “talent agent.” The writer claims he’d sell his soul to the devil to make it big as a writer. Enough said. The ‘agent’ pulls the dancing girl (one of his clients) off the stage and orders her to pay special, private attention to the writer while he reads his work. The work just happens to be the twelve short stories. After each short story, the setting goes back to the bar; more bar scenes. We see the relationships of the people progress as we read through the collection. Our writer and stripper it seems, have plans of their own. Plans that would free the girl from the ‘agent’s’ employ and allow the writer himself to avoid a similar fate. So not only is the reader being entertained by the twelve short stories, they are interested in the story within the stories, or visa versa.
Q- I am also aware that you are passionate about your support for the veterans of the armed services. Would you like to share that with our readers?
A- Ron, as you know, I’m a veteran myself. I was an airborne infantryman in the Army and spent a year in Iraq as a machine gunner for a convoy security team. I know the cost of freedom because I paid it. I saw too many people pay the ultimate price, life. It is actually during my time in Iraq that I had an epiphany pertaining to my writing. I told myself that if I were fortunate enough to make it home from the war, that I would focus less on making a living and more on making a life. There were 19-year-old kids dying all around me. When you are in that situation it makes you examine life; your own life.
I’ve kept my promise. Ron, as you know, I spend about 9 months a year living in the Philippine Islands in Southeast Asia. I spend the rest of my time in my native West Virginia. I write full time in both places. Many people ask, “Why the Philippines?” There are many reasons, like my beautiful girlfriend of nearly two years, the tropical, year round summer weather. The beauty of the beaches and jungles. From an economic standpoint, the biggest benefit is the currency conversion. One US dollar is equal to forty two Philippine pesos! This means your money goes a lot farther, and for those of us in any type of art business, be it writing, painting, sculpting, who don’t make a lot of money in the early years (if ever), it allows us to focus on our art without starving. I could come back to America full time, go back into the private sector and make a lot of money again, as I did when I was a stock broker during my marriage. But then I wouldn’t be able to write like I do now. I would be focusing on making a living, not a life and I’ve already wasted too many years doing that. 

People think I’m crazy for not chasing the “American dream,” but to me that ‘dream’ was a nightmare. One hundred years from now, no one would ever care or even know that I was making ten thousand dollars a month as a stock broker. However, it is my hope that 100 years from now people will still be reading my books. That is a contribution I can make to society. I would rather contribute to society, the next generation, the future- than to contribute only to my own bank account.
Q- So what’s next for Kevin Lake?
A- The next book. It’s that simple. I’m going back to the Philippines in December. I will have the next one nearly finished, if not finished by then. I also spend a lot of time marketing. As a self-published author, I have to push my own books. I don’t have a big marketing machine behind me and the books don’t sell themselves. With that said, I’d encourage everyone to read my book “From the Graves of Babes.” 

You didn’t ask about it during this interview Ron, but I’d like to point out to people that it is currently the number one ghost novel on Amazon based on customer satisfaction. And it has been for 5 of the 8 months it’s been in print! I am more honored to be number one in customer satisfaction than I would be even in sales because that lets me know, not only are people buying my book but they are thoroughly enjoying it. This is another thing that inspires me. My friends, old and new, and even people I’ve never met, passing me on the street, or looking me up on facebook and saying something along the lines of “I read your book and it was awesome!” gives me enough fuel to keep going in this lonely business. So, to them, I want to say ‘thank you.’ For them, there will always be the next Kevin E Lake novel (as long as the great spirit of the universe sees fit to keep me alive). For me, there’s a white sandy beach and a beautiful little island lady a waitin’!

Thanks so very much for joining us, Kevin, and I know I will be following you and your career for a long time to come. All the best!

Know thine characters

OK, so I am up really late on a Monday night (I can do that these days and not miss a beat) - and I have this desire to blog about writing characters. There are quite a few things that I could say about that, but some of the highlights will do for this post today.

Here they are: Make your characters different from one another and make them stand out for who they are. No one likes vanilla people on paper. Know their history. Where did they come from? What sorts of things do they detest? Give them a horrible past and tell us every juicy detail by their actions.

No, don't just TELL us, show us how they are affected by it. Share something happy about them with us, and make us smile. Make us laugh, and we will read your book to the very end. Make everything about their past matter, and throw in secrets. Readers LOVE secrets!

When your characters talk, make them all sound different. I know this is a little like making them different from above, but it is still not the exact same thing. We all talk differently. Accents, speech patterns all differ and make us individuals. Do that for the paper people too.

And, I guess that is all for now. I am thinking way too hard for after midnight, but that's how I roll. I just need to roll myself over to the laptop and do more edits on my latest WIP and then everything in my writing life would be on track.

Hope your Thursday flies by (we all know what comes after Thursday and isn't that super!) and if you have time today, go sit alone in a coffeeshop or a cafe and listen to the people who fill our world.

They all make wonderful book characters with their different loves and hates, with their horrible pasts, and their happy stories. If we could create from the world around us, what a magnificient lot of pages we could make!

Wise old owl

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review - A Demon's Dozen by Kevin Lake

copyright 2011 by Ron Adams 

In his new collection of short stories, “A Demon’s Dozen”, Kevin E. Lake deftly crafts a story within the stories as a down-on-his-luck writer tries to outwit the Devil himself with his tales of ghosts, creatures, and evil. As he has with his previous works, “Serial Street” and “From the Graves of Babes”, Lake proves himself poised to take his place among some of the very best in the horror genre.

When Damon, a talent agent from hell, finds author Truman Jackson drowning his sorrows in a dive/strip club, lamenting the repeated rejection of his collection of twelve short stories. The beautiful Kiki, the club’s featured dancer and a client of Damon’s, can’t even provide distraction from Truman’s despair. He finally admits to Damon he would be willing to do anything to become the successful writer he knows he can be. With that, Damon agrees to read the manuscript, and offers Kiki’s services to Truman while he reads.

The stories themselves are highly entertaining, and ratchet up in intensity as Damon progresses through the manuscript. There are tales of ghosts, both friendly and not; creatures of myth and mystery, and tales of evil and revenge. Fans of Lake’s are in for a treat, as he takes them back to the Richwood, West Virginia, the setting for his best selling novel, “From the Graves of Babes.”

Filled with twists and turns, monsters and demons, Kevin Lake has shown himself to be skilled and talented storyteller, and has given me one of my most enjoyable reads of the summer.
Please join me later this week for an interview with author Kevin E. Lake on Friday 9/30/2001.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Does Anyone Write Letters Any More?

© Lisa Black 2011 all rights reserved

I have always been a prolific letter writer. (I don’t mean e-mails, by the way, I mean an honest-to-goodness piece of paper with an envelope and a stamp, which I turn over to the Post Office and their amazing work.) I mean, for as far back as I can remember—when a first class stamp was 8 cents, which, according to my great good friend Google, means that I was between nine and eleven years old. And they were letters, not thank-you notes or some other social obligation, but notes to assorted favorite cousins talking about my day and what had occurred and including an original work of fiction sketched out in storyboard form (despite my utter lack of artistic ability). I have no idea what I talked about, what was going on in my fourth-grade life that simply had to be shared with the world, but that didn’t stop me then and it doesn’t stop me today, when all I have to speak of is laundry chores and what’s on TV and perhaps if my agent has thrown me a bone. Letters are also good opportunities to reconnect with some tiny past event which was of no consequence to anyone except you and your recipient. Yesterday I wrote a postcard to an old friend simply to tell her that I had run across a very old TV series featuring an actor we used to admire. It stunk, the series, but the card will still make her chuckle and bring back some small and pleasant memories that I’m sure haven’t occurred to her in quite some time. The point is not the subject matter. The point is that someone thought enough of the recipient to take time out of their day to put words to paper and then into an envelope for no other reason to remind them that hey, I’m still here, I know you’re still there, and I still care about that. The world needs more moments like that.

Plus, the advantage of distance can give you extra freedom. I can make cutting remarks about my local government to my friend who lives in another state, because the odds of it getting from her back to the nosy co-worker in the next cubicle is infinitesimal to none. My friend will laugh and throw it into the recycling bin. It will not live forever in cyberspace, to grow, fester, take on a life force of its own and return just in time to ruin my chances for a seat on the city council.

Write especially to people who are cut off from the majority of their social circle, the house-bound, soldiers overseas, children away at college or doing a semester in a foreign country. I can assure you they will never, ever forget it.

Besides, for a writer, it’s terrific practice. Every fact you relate in a personal letter is an exercise in dramatic expression, designed for maximum impact and tailored for the recipient. (More than once a letter to a friend has then been censored and truncated to be sent to an elderly aunt.) I produced some of my funniest lines in letters, as when I described a children’s choir—adorable to the eyes but not so much to the ears—as sounding ‘as if a box of children’s voices had been dropped down a flight of steps.’ Or the time ‘my husband came home from work unexpectedly and said he thought he’d catch me with a boyfriend and instead found me in the wild and crazy process of cleaning out the attic, which we both agreed is a sad commentary on my social life.’ I’ll write short movie reviews: “The problem with seeing that Julie & Julia movie is now I’m dying to rush home and fry something in butter.” Or travel commentary: ‘the city of New Orleans seems to have only a passing acquaintance with either vegetables or fruits, unless they’re in a daiquiri.’

A letter reader is like any other reader. They are taking time out of their busy schedule to read what you’ve written, and the need to hold their attention away from all the other demands in their life forces you to write as effectively and concisely as you would a best seller. On a smaller scale, but all the same challenges apply.

So go ahead and write a letter. The recipient won’t care if it’s not on matching stationery. They won’t care if it’s typed instead of hand-written. They won’t care if it’s scribbled on a paper towel with a stubby crayon. They won’t even care if you don’t have anything in particular to say. They’ll only care that you cared.

About the author:
Lisa Black’s fourth book Defensive Wounds was released by Harper Collins on September 27. Forensic scientist Theresa MacLean battles a serial killer operating at an attorney’s convention. Lisa is a full time latent print examiner and CSI for a police department in Florida.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Review: PIRATE KING by Laurie R. King

Title: Pirate King
Author: Laurie R. King
Publisher: Random House
ISBN-10: 0553807986
ISBN-13: 978-0553807981
Price: $13.99 hardcover; $12.99 Kindle
Author’s website:

About the series:

I have long loved Laurie R. King’s books, from my first taste of her writing in THE MOOR, to Kate Martinelli’s dark mysteries, including A GRAVE TALENT. Without fail, I preorder each new release, looking forward to the hardcover arrivals to treasure and store on my bookshelf. Lately, I’ve also ordered the Kindle versions, just to have the books close at hand when a stray chance to read presents itself.

Mary Russell, originally an apprentice to Sherlock Holmes and now his wife and partner in solving puzzles around the world, is featured in these books with her erudite and delightful husband, in a world of high culture and gentle civility. Of course, things are not quite so civil when they run across villains. When that happens, all bets are off.

The series is most appealing because of its intellect combined with delectable humor, particularly shown through the pithy dialogue of husband and wife. Mary Russell’s voice is strong – profound, most definitely British, and delightfully independent. Her relationship with Holmes, while they dash across the globe to solve mysteries and rescue innocents, is what hooked me from the beginning, particularly its dry humor and subtle eroticism.

What amazes me most about this author is her ability to set a story in the voice and time of the early 20th century, in such a way that readers feel an integral part of that era. And yet, she also has perfected the art of writing contemporary genre crime stories, such as TO PLAY THE FOOL and the other Kate Martinelli mysteries. I’ve loved them all, including the standalones, but what astounds me the most is King’s ability to switch between these distinct and very different writing styles so effortlessly. Both series have garnered high awards in the literary world, and both have found space on my bookshelf.

About the new book:

In THE PIRATE KING, the eleventh Mary Russell book, Russell is challenged to uncover secrets in a nest of villainous characters spanning the misty shores of Lisbon to the heady-scented harems of Morocco.

Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard convinces Russell to go undercover in the film company, posing as an assistant to the director. What happened to the missing secretary? Why were her shoes found near a ledge, but no suicide note? And what about these rumrunners, cocaine dealers, and arms sellers who seem to be linked with every silent Fflytte film that’s ever been produced?

With Holmes unavailable, Russell is rushed undercover in this colorful, crazy world of silent filmmaking, where she is immediately put in charge of a bevy of blonde actresses and is the primary peacekeeper and runner of errands.

A band of real pirates is hired in Lisbon to act in “the film about a film about pirates” loosely based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. (Although quite complex, the story within a story didn’t bother me, since one of my own books involves a deeply layered story with multiple actors, their roles in a musical, and the story behind the story that inspired the musical. I was used to thinking in these convoluted terms!)

Vibrant characters, subtle hints, questions that layer one upon the other, they weave a tight and fascinating tapestry. Suffice it to say that a complete plot description would take up too much room here. You can read more details in the product description on Amazon, or on King’s website at

As an aside, I did have one minor complaint about PIRATE KING. I missed Sherlock Holmes in the first two-thirds of this book. Mary writes letters to him, but he doesn’t write back, so we don’t hear his voice or see him for much of the story, and I yearned for their witty repartee. He does finally show up, however, and it’s at that point where the suspense and action really pick up. Yes, PIRATE KING has a different feel from the previous novels, but is enjoyable in its own right.

Mary Russell’s voice is distinct and unique; it’s what stamps the eleven books with King’s signature, book after book. As an example, see the following excerpt from a letter penned to Holmes.

“It may not have escaped your notice that this missive contains a dearth of data concerning the true reason for my presence, namely, a missing secretary and the illicit selling of cocaine and firearms. Perhaps that is due to the circumstances of my employment, which is rather that of a person attempting delicate surgery whilst standing in a hurricane.

I shall persist.”

It is Russell’s sardonic wit exemplified in lines like this that always make me laugh out loud.

Some of the lovelier aspects of PIRATE KING—aside from the fun of meeting all of the actors, pirates, and staff—are the delicious descriptions of Lisbon and Morocco. Exotic and intriguing, the sights, sounds, and aromas tantalize. It’s clear that the author has been in these locales (you can read about it on her Mutterings blog at

In addition to the intricately woven plot, King paints delightful portraits of her featured characters, such as Mr. Pessoa, based on a real Portuguese poet from the same time in history.

“All this talk about pirates had made Mr. Pessoa’s gaze go far away. Two lengths of ash had dropped unnoticed as his monologue unfurled. Then he looked at me as if in expectation of an answer, to a question I could not begin to recall. I felt an absurd urge to lay my head down on the table and go to sleep. Or to weep.”

One aspect of King’s writing that thrills me is the use of certain verbs, such as “…his monologue unfurled.” How appropriate (since we’re reading about sailing and sails unfurling), and what pure poetry. I love the thought of words unfurling from a poet’s lips.

Russell’s humor continues, never failing, even in the most dire situation.

“It was getting on to eleven o’clock; I had not slept a full night since leaving London; I had not eaten a full meal in that same time. I was exhausted and cold and so hungry that the plate of fly-specked objects on a shelf (pies? Boiled eggs? Bundled stockings, perhaps?) made my mouth water.”

I still laugh when I picture whatever it was on that shelf. Eggs, pies, or stockings?

My favorite line in this entire story, however, again comes from one of Russell’s letters to Holmes.

“Holmes, I am awash in a sea of megalomaniacs.”

And indeed, she was. Surrounded by film directors, actors, pirates, poets, and spies, this staunch and feisty young woman took on more than her share and made Holmes and her readers very proud.

If you begin to read the book and wonder where the threats are, where the mystery is, when the action will start, don’t despair. Although the first section is a bit different from other Mary Russell books (albeit enjoyable in its own right), the last pages will woo you with dazzling tension, heart pounding action, and wonderful imagery. I’ll never forget the image of Russell hanging outside a Moroccan jail cell on a silk rope thirty feet above the cobblestones below, having in-depth conversations with the prisoner inside; it was sheer delight.

If you haven’t read a book by Laurie King, please check them out now. Whether you’re a modern day crime aficionado or a British mystery fan, both genres will fill your days and nights with superb writing and entertainment. You can find all the books on her website.


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 grandkids and dogs, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys.

Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, FOR THE BIRDS (2011), ESSENTIALLY YOURS (2012), TERROR COMES KNOCKING (2011), FOR KEEPS (2012), DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (2012), and the author’s preferred editions of DOUBLE FORTÉ and UPSTAGED (2012).

Thursday, September 22, 2011


This week we celebrated International Talk Like A Pirate Day and believe me, I am kind of hooked on the whole thing now. I even participated in the Memphis version Pyratefest oh yeah, I did. If you like this sort of thing, be sure to join your local reinactors. It is a lot of fun, and ahem, great fodder for a book. Which is why I am posting this! I have started on a pirate book, which is mostly romance, but of course, will have a mystery in there somewhere. I am sort of thinking that the history of pirates just lends itself to mysterious circumstances-- I mean, who doesn't love treasure hunts? Isn't that SORT of mystery-like? I am sharing photos here of some of my better shots during this year and last year's events. Maybe you can invent a short story out of one or more of them? Hey, I want to be as encouraging as I can to our budding fellow writers *big grin* So here ya go, please enjoy, arrrrggg!

Monday, September 19, 2011

So What Are You Afraid Of?

copyright 2011 by Ron Adams

I took my son to his martial arts class this week, and the Instructor had the whole class doing something different. He took an established kata, one that the class knew well, consisting essentially of a series of defensive blocks set in a circle pattern. Master Sanchez then had the students build from that, adding a series of punches and kick between the blocks. It worked for a time, and then the kata fell apart for every student on the floor. When he asked them
why, several answers were offered, but one student found the key.

“We were afraid of screwing it up,” he said. And he was right. No new parts were added; all the students were familiar with all the moves they were asked to do. The problem was doing it differently. I noticed how that applies to writing as well.

We all know how to string words together in a sentence, and how the sentences make
paragraphs, and how enough paragraphs put together make a story. But what happens
when you write in a different manner? What if you write in first person one chapter, then third person the next, like James Patterson does in his Alex Cross novels? What if you write a western instead of a mystery, like Robert B. Parker? What if you’re detective is also a wizard, like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden? I think you get my point.

We all need to sharpen our skills from time to time, to do something different and expand our repertoire. Whenever I get to feeling complacent and confident, I take on a new genre, or a new perspective, or even a whole new form. The process helps the writer to face the things they fear in writing, and to learn that there is nothing wrong with messing up from time to time. It gives us the chance to start fresh and get it right the next time. So, what are you afraid of?

Writing The Villain

© Vicki Delany 2011 all rights reserved

One of the great conundrums in writing a crime novel in the traditional ‘mystery’ framework is the character known as the villain.

For lack of a better word, I’ll use villain here. To mean the bad guy or girl or the person who-dun-it. The villain, of course, doesn’t have to be villainous. They can be a good person who made a mistake, a hero gone wrong, a well-meaning person whose attempt to fix a problem gets increasingly worse. They can, in fact, not be bad at all.

In the traditional mystery format (and there are many, many other types of what I prefer to call crime novels) the villain must appear early in the story, almost from the beginning; they must play a prominent part throughout. And it must not be known that they are the villain until almost the very end.

Sounds almost impossible to do, right? Put like that it’s a wonder anyone writes mysteries at all. But it’s not as hard as it sounds and it’s done, very successfully, all the time.

The novel has a cast of characters, presumably, and the villain can hide among them. The friend, the spouse, the colleague, sometimes even one of the cops or detectives. The villain must have a motive for the crime (at least in their own mind) and thus they must have a secret. It’s the uncovering of that secret that lies at the heart of most traditionally-constructed mystery novels.

Here are a few rough rules for creating the character of the villain or antagonist.

The villain must fit the style of novel. In a small town police procedural series, such as my Constable Molly Smith books set in the Interior of British Columbia, the villain is never going to be an international terrorist seeking to end civilization as we know it. They have to be the sort of person who fits into the town and the type of crime that is found there. Usually personal, sometimes the result of secrets that go back for years if not generations. In the newest book in the series, AMONG THE DEPARTED, Molly Smith is very close to the investigation into the discovery of human remains in the wilderness – she might have been, as a thirteen year old at a sleepover, the last person to have seen the man alive. In NEGATIVE IMAGE, Sergeant John Winters’s wife’s former fiancé comes to town – and someone wants him dead.

The villain must be on the scale of the protagonist. Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty are two sides of the same coin. Sherlock uses his intellect to do good – Moriarty to do bad. Superman is perfectly good, therefore Lex Luther must be perfectly bad. A small town cop goes up against small scale, personal-level criminals, not international terrorists. James Bond goes up against international criminals and terrorists, not small-town petty criminals.

The villain must not be too true to life. In real life police will tell you that almost all murders are instantly solved. The killer is usually, sadly, a member of the family or someone close to the victim. If it’s a random sort of thing – drive-by or shoot out, the criminals are pretty easy to find. They’re driving their own cars, with licence plates, or in an area where lots of people know them. Or they rob a store in their own neighbourhood, leave plenty of fingerprints behind, or drop an envelope with their address on it. In my own area, someone stole two eighteen-litre bottles of water off a front step. The homeowner opened his door to see him loading the water in the trunk and driving away. He wrote down the licence plate and called the police. When the cops arrived at the villain’s house, the water was still in his car.

Criminals are not very smart – otherwise most of them wouldn’t get caught.

The trick in writing the villain is the same as in many other aspects of fiction: the villain must appear to be completely realistic and possible, while at the same time not being so. If the villain of your novel is like the majority of criminals, you’d have a pretty boring book.

The villain must be worthy of the reader’s attention. In a police procedural novel, the police might well spend a large part of the book dealing with small time criminals, but ultimately the main thrust of the book, and thus of the reader’s attention, must be a criminal who is clever and difficult to track down. The villain might be known to the reader, might even be known to the protagonist in the book, but it takes all of the protagonists’ skill and intelligence to catch and/or prove the villain dun it. He or she must be a challenge to your protagonist, otherwise there is no reason that the reader would keep on reading.

Writing the villain can be difficult, complex, and a lot of fun.

About the author:
Vicki Delany is the author of many critically acclaimed crime novels including the Constable Molly Smith series, a traditional village/police procedural set in the Interior of British Columbia from Poisoned Pen Press, the Klondike Gold Rush series set in the Yukon in 1898 from Dundurn, and standalone novels of gothic suspense also from Poisoned Pen Press. Vicki’s latest book is AMONG THE DEPARTED, fifth in the Constable Molly Smith series. GOLD MOUNTAIN, the third Klondike book, will be released in May 2012. Visit Vicki at  on Facebook:  and Twitter @vickidelany. She blogs at One Woman Crime Wave 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Setting: Your Own Back Yard

copyright 2011 aaron paul lazar

Enroute to my booksigning yesterday in the Finger Lakes region of Western New York, I had the weirdest experience. For a good fifteen minutes, a burning scent filled the car. Acrid. Disgusting. But I couldn't see any source of it - either on the roadside or ahead of me. I kept checking my temperature gauge, concerned that somehow something was going wrong beneath the hood of my one year old Camry. But no smoke rose nor did any weird noises or flames erupt.

Puzzled, I zoomed south on Route 390, driving over the undulating hills with isolated touches of red or bronze flashing in the woods and fields. Fall hasn't come to our region yet, although we've had a few cold mornings lately. It was gorgeous, as always, but I still smelled that strong odor. Could there be a forest fire? Why didn't I see smoke?

I was really getting worried until I flew around a curve and saw the culprit. There, before me, was a giant truck spewing an acrid plume - and I mean PLUME - of gray smoke, so thick that when I approached I could barely see the road.

Fear gripped me, and A headline popped into my head. AUTHOR DIES IN EXPLOSION PASSING BURNING TRUCK. With renewed determination, I carefully passed him, wondering why he wasn't stopping. It was at that point that I saw flames leaping out of the open topped trailer.

How could he not know something was wrong?

I flashed my lights, beeped my horn, got by him, and promptly called 911. He didn't slow down, kept chugging along. With a prayer for his safety, I kept going after the police promised to track him down.

I have no idea what happened and whether or not the cops were able to locate him and stop him before his vehicle blew up, but man, was it scary.

Fortunately, it wasn't an omen of my day to come. On the way to the event, I started to relax again, loving the way the heavy pinot noir grapes hung on the vines in fields by the road, rejoicing in the sparkling aquamarine water of the narrow lake and the quaint cottages dotting the shore.

The booksigning at Heron Hill Winery overlooking Keuka Lake was lovely, especially after the sun came out just in time for us to witness the annual parade of the seaplanes flying low over the lake. I love this place, and I love the people who run it. They are so welcoming, it's like greeting old friends each time I visit.

The pictures above were taken outside the tent where I signed books - also where an annual Harvest Wine Tour took place. The winery is perched high on the western bluff overlooking the lake.

I had lovely conversations with wine and book lovers from all parts of the country, connecting with them in the way only readers and writers can - sharing the love of favorite authors, talking about plots and characters in the sun while sipping wine. It was pure joy.

But one resounding theme kept coming back to me. So many folks love reading about a specific setting or locale. Whether they'd attended school at Geneseo in the Genesee Valley, lived in Rochester, summer camped on the lake, or simply adored this part of the country, they all perked up when they discovered my books were based in the Finger Lakes and Genesee Valley region of New York. 

Of course, how can I blame them? There's so much beauty here, it stuns me time and time again, in spite of the fact that I live here!

A friend who suprised me with a visit yesterday said it best, actually. Paul had moved from our region a year ago to the Albany area, headed for a super job, but had to leave his home of many years. He popped into the signing with a big smile. Of course, he had to endure several bear hugs from me.

While we drank the new 2009 dry Riesling and looked over the vineyards and lake below, he mused about someday moving here. On the drive down, he said he was so overtaken by the beauty of the area, it took his breath away and made his heart swell.

I loved hearing him speak about it, because it mirrored my own passion for the area.

My characters do have excursions to Maine and Europe, and will probably tour new parts of the world in the future, but I'm glad I chose to base my books right here in my own back yard. I'm blessed to live here, and thank God every day for the beauty that surrounds me.

Where do your characters live? What settings have you chosen for your scenes? Share below in the comments section, and remember to write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar

P.S. We had my daughter's wedding last month in the same region, overlooking Keuka Lake. So beautiful! Above is a family photo.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lazar Under the Microscope

I'm honored to welcome Dorothy James to Murderby4 today. I met this fine lady on Twitter, of all places, where her book - A Place to Die - caught my eye. We began exchanging emails, and I discovered she was quite the international writer, with her current novel set in Vienna, one of my favorite places. You may remember I reviewed her book here. Dorothy was born in Wales and grew up in the South Wales Valleys. Writer, editor, translator, educator, college chairwoman, expert in the German language, and more, she has published short stories as well as books and articles on German and Austrian literature. She makes her home now in Brooklyn, but travels frequently to Berlin, to Vienna, and to her native Wales. She blogs here - about mysteries, what else?

To my surprise and delight, Dorothy picked up the first of my LeGarde Mysteries, read them, and performed an in-depth scholarly review to the start of the (ultimately) ten book series, analyzing the content and style with incredible insight. She really "got" me, probably more than any reviewer has in the past. She even discovered my inability to integrate good and evil, my operatic separation of heroes and villains, and she touched on some really interesting psychological discoveries that even I hadn't faced. Very cool. Thank you, Dorothy.

The Country Mysteries of Aaron Paul Lazar, by Dorothy James

copyright 2011, Dorothy James

Aaron Paul Lazar is an all-American writer of popular mysteries. He sometimes calls them country mysteries, and this goes some way towards describing them. Because I come from Britain and have many connections with Europe, I might wish to call them “American country mysteries.” Certainly they are a far cry from the formulaic English country-house mysteries, and they do not in the least resemble the many English murder mysteries set (with notable lack of verisimilitude) in the charming little villages of the South of England. Lazar’s country mysteries are unique, at least in the context of my own reading. And they are very American. Why do I say that? Because I cannot imagine finding anywhere but in the USA Lazar’s particular blend of romance, family affection, church-going warmth, appetizing home cooking, enthusiastic gardening, breath-stopping suspense, villainous behavior with murderous intent, all put together with intelligence, good humor, story-telling skill and a bubbling-over of imagery, more than a touch of naïve and lovable optimism and an overpowering sense that although particularly nasty and violent men keep cropping up, East Goodland (well-named) in the Genesee Valley in upstate New York is still the best of all possible worlds.

Lazar is a prolific writer, and I am going to confine my discussion here to the first five of his Gus LeGarde mysteries. These are the novels that set him on the road to becoming a writer of mystery novels, and while he may have refined his writing skills in his later novels, these are the novels that drew me into his world, and I would like work out why, what is their attraction? Why do I keep coming back to see what is going on in East Goodland?

In order of their appearance they are:

Double Forté and Upstaged, first published by Publish America in 2004 and 2005, and soon to be re-issued by Twilight Times Books.

Tremolo: Cry of the Loon, published by Twilight Times Books in 2007

Mazurka, published by Paladin Timeless Books (a Twilight Times Imprint) in 2009

FireSong, published by Paladin Timeless Books (a Twilight Times Imprint) in 2011

All these novels are also available on Kindle and in numerous other e-reader formats, and since Aaron has agreed to be interviewed on this blog, I will be asking him more about the ways in which he wrote and published these novels, but today I want to concentrate on some aspects of the novels themselves.

The hero of this series of novels is Gus LeGarde—not a detective, not a policeman, but a professor. Not by any means a stereotypical professor. He is a professor of music in a local upstate New York college but we see a lot more of him in his house, his garden, his kitchen, his church, than in his college. These are no typical college mysteries with a cast of faculty members as suspects. They are mysteries in which Gus himself is at the center, often not so much in a detecting role as in the role of potential victim of a dastardly character or characters who pursue him and his loved ones, often in hair-raising chases. Professor he may be, but he is an outdoors type, who skis, rides horses, runs, swims and when necessary packs a mighty punch. He himself is the recipient of so many blows to the head that one would fear for his sanity if he did not have an amazing ability to get back on his feet and fight another day.

And yet Gus is not a violent man. On the contrary, he is a loving, sensitive and of course musical soul who tends to get involved in crime only because he is concerned about his fellow men, and particularly about children, women—and animals too. It is this concern and the compulsion to step in and help those in trouble that usually makes him, and often his wife, the direct target of various villains’ wrath.

When we first meet him in Double Forté, he is a widower, a middle-aged grandfather, who has already known tragedy in his personal life through the illness and death of his beloved wife, Elsbeth. read more here...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Memory of September 11, 2001

Today we're leaving the blog open to comments and tributes from folks involved in the nine eleven tragedy.

Just like when JFK was assassinated, I remember every detail of that day. What do you remember?

Let's all join together today to remember the brave men and women who lost their lives saving others, as well as the innocent victims who were killed.

God Bless America!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Writing scared, by Laurie R. King

Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Laurie R. King, bestselling author of 21 crime novels, including a historical series featuring young Mary Russell and her somewhat more famous husband, Sherlock Holmes. Ms. King’s upcoming novel Pirate King is set in 1924 London, Lisbon, and Morocco, and promises to be a rollicking ride. I've already started reading an advanced copy of the book and am thrilled to be back in the world of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. (see below where you can order a signed copy for yourself!)

Ms. King has graciously agreed to appear here today, offering advice from her Mutterings blog. Thank you, and welcome!


Writing Scared

copyright 2011, Laurie R. King

I’ve been lucky with reviews. I’m sure there are any number of loud and pointed complaints on my various books’ Amazon pages, but I take care not to be the obsessive author who reads and agonizes over every iota of negativity. Yes, I have had bad reviews—the Kirkus phrase, “a long, keen disappointment” will be found branded across my frontal lobe when I die—but more often, I have had reviews that make me want to ring up the reviewer and just, well, explain.

Which impulse, thank heavens, I have never been in a position to carry out, because that way lies both madness and the death of a career.

On the one hand, reviews need to be taken with grains—nay, spoonsful—of salt: the reviewer is a single person, who may (or very occasionally, may not) be well read, but who remains a single person, with individual tastes, a tendency to be irritated by continued disappointments (be they long and keen or brief and dull), and a niggling resentment that even the most thoughtful and laboriously crafted review pays a pittance. Journals and newspapers try to avoid assigning books to unsympathetic reviewers, since there are limits to the amusement of having a guy who adores hard-edged thrillers ripping apart chicklits and cozies, but still, we all have our taste in books, and sometimes a novel isn’t it.

I do read my reviews. I even ask my editor to send me the bad ones, because I can learn from them, and not just learning how to bleed and smile at the same time.

With every book, I try to balance story line and character, amusement value and serious issues (well, not too many of those in Pirate King…) I review the dialogue a dozen times, I hammer away at illogical plot turns, I fiddle endlessly with the balance between too much and too little setting, I try to make all the characters realistic enough to be believable, yet surprising enough to be interesting.

And it doesn’t always work. If I get one review that pans my attention to plot where six others have praised just that, I’ll figure it was probably a bad day for that reviewer. But if I get six criticisms of the same point, or—since reviewers in general are friendly and helpful people—six comments that damn by faint praise, I take that as a clear sign that I got it wrong. That I failed to differentiate the characters sufficiently, or to trim down the descriptions and integrate them into the flow of plot, or to make sure the plot devices didn’t creak as they turned and that the plot as a whole held water.

Of course, there is nothing to be done for that book—only rarely is a writer permitted a complete rewrite of a published story. (Which explains why I almost never re-read one of my books once it’s between hard covers.) However, a series of questionable reviews makes me very, very alert to the area being pointed out, the next time around.

Because every writer needs to write scared.

I said earlier that I’ve been lucky with reviews. That doesn’t mean I don’t write scared. Laurels are for polishing, and breathing in the smell of, not for resting upon. Praise is a thing to be accepted with grace while a voice of disbelief whispers in the other ear, “A part of this is luck. And luck can run out.”
I am grateful that people like my stories. Every day I am grateful. And I never forget to write scared.


However, if you think this means I’m not going to sing aloud the great Booklist review I just got, you’re very wrong. I figure, if you got it, sing it.  You can’t be scared all the time.

Booklist (a starred review) Pirate King:

Brilliant and beautifully complex, the chronicles of Mary Russell Holmes are told in the voice of their subject, the much younger, highly educated, half-American Jewish wife of Sherlock Holmes. This one’s tangled web includes some very high comedy from Gilbert and Sullivan, pirates, and early moviemaking, Russell finds herself, possibly at the behest of Mycroft Holmes, working for Fflyte Films and on a Mediterranean voyage (in a brigantine!). Her assignment: shepherding a bevy of blonde actresses, their mothers, young British constables, and a handful of men whose dark eyes and darker scars may reflect an unsavory history. Mr. Fflyte, we learn, is making a film about the making a film version of The Pirates of Penzance and wants real pirates, a real ship, and real locales. King rings merry changes on identity, filmmaking, metafiction, and the tendency of each and all to underestimate blondes. Her descriptions of locale are voluptuous, and her continued delineation of the relationship of Russell and Holmes exquisitely portrays the eroticism of intellectual give-and-take. Quotations from Gilbert and Sullivan and the language of sailing ships (take that, Patrick O’Brian!) add to the general, luscious hilarity.

To order a signed copy of Pirate King, go to the Poisoned Pen shop.

Since Laurie R. King’s first book, A Grave Talent, came out in 1993, she has gained a reputation as a prize-winning, best-selling author who holds an undying place in the hearts of readers ranging from fourteen year-old girls to members of the House of Lords to ninety year-old retired Air Force colonels.
King was born in northern California, the third generation in her family native to the San Francisco area. She spent her childhood reading her way through libraries like a termite through balsa, and her middle years raising children, traveling the world, and studying theology, earning a BA degree in comparative religion and an MA in Old Testament Theology. She now lives a genteel life of crime, back again in northern California.

Ms. King's web site, with excerpts from Pirate King and loads of other entertainment, can be found here:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

If only I was a fly on the wall!

This week, I had hoped to continue on with dreams and how they can be made into books, short stories, etc. but unfortunately, life has once again stepped in and changed the ballgame. I haven't had a dream that I can remember or even talk coherently about. I am beginning to think that by talking about them, I have sent them packing some where deep in my subconscious and it will keep them hostage until I forget I want them.

So, instead, let's talk about other ways to get the muse motivated. Eavesdropping is a goodie. Yes, I said eavesdropping. Some people think that listening in on other's conversations is bad manners. Well, as a writer, I think it is our job. We can create such great characters from conversations others have.

Think of it! A man discussing how he has just lost his job. A woman is bemoaning not being able to get pregnant. A teen is rattling on about the new band coming to town. Have you ever had such rich fodder for your writing as what is going on in other people's backyards?? Yeah, exactly. So the next time you are sitting at a family-style restaurant listen in on what the next table is discussing.

Imagine what would happen if that were your character enduring it. What if ... oh, what if! And oh yes, do not forget the wait staff!! Being a major go out to eat sort of gal, I have been privy to a lot of waitress conversations. They live very interesting lives.

Oh and one more thing, don't forget those conversations going on as you stand and wait on the cashier at your local department store. The people shuffling around you have a lot to say as well. Sometimes it is the way they say it to the kids seated as rapt audiences in the shopping cart. Those kids are now your eyes and ears - shuffle closer. Go on. Listen. You know you want to!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How to Win Friends and Critique Writing

copyright 2011 by Ron Adams

A friend of mine and I were discussing the various critiques we had done recently when he made the most remarkable revelation.

“I have a terrible confession,” he said. “I have three other books written by friends I am supposed to be reviewing as well. I have had them all for more than a month how. They are approximately 200 pages each. I have read 42 pages of one, 20 of another, and only 2 from the third. They suck and I just can't bring myself to continue, though I know I will.”

There it is in a nutshell. As writers we have all offered to trade critiques with others, hoping for the favorable review that will build our confidence and propel a promising career forward. And as we settle in to read the other person’s work…we don’t like it. The plot was too convoluted, the characters were unbelievable, the mechanics were a complete mess. So now they are waiting for your “honest opinion.” Great.

This is my approach. First, find the positive. In the past I have told the writer that I enjoyed and appreciated the effort, and have often complimented them on an outstanding story concept. Interesting ideas should always be encouraged. I might also comment on the period, if it is
appropriate, especially since some period pieces can be very entertaining, especially since I am a fan of the hard-boiled detective genre. The point is to always lead with the positive.

And here there be monsters. I try to stay as objective as possible when offering any negative criticism. Grammar and spelling notwithstanding, certain other elements of good writing are essential to the readers. I personally look for overused words, over used or inappropriate similes or metaphors, consistent character development, and a plot line that makes sense to the intent of the story. It is not appropriate to show the writer how clever YOU are, but to offer your own perspective on the things you saw as flawed. Always critique the writing, never the writer. The Golden Rule does come into play here – even a negative critique can be a positive experience if done in the spirit of assistance in the growth and development of both the reviewed and the reviewer.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Writing on the Road, by Aaron Paul Lazar

 I’ve always been a homebody. Mostly it’s because I get all the social interaction I need from my family, my friends at work, and my characters. And of course, many of my passions lie on the home front, like writing, gardening, cooking, and taking photos of the Genesee Valley.

But several of these hobbies are decidedly portable, and writing is one I can do anywhere, as long as I have my trusty MacBook Pro at my side.

If you have a trip coming up and happen to be in the middle of writing a book – don’t despair! Not only do you not have to worry about continuing your story, you might actually find the experience a writing nirvana.

My good friend Mary Emmons suggested I write a piece about it, since I seem to be doing this a lot more lately with the new day job. Here are a few things to consider before you travel.

Whether you’re going to a remote cabin in the woods without Internet, like our new favorite Tall Pines cabin in the Adirondacks we discovered a few years ago that is now my favorite writing place in the world, or whether you’re traveling to Germany or Thailand, like I have done in the past few years, be sure to be prepared.

First of all, safeguard all of your current works before sending yourself and your laptop around the globe. Of course, you should already have a hard drive backup (that you actually USE every day!) and also as a backup to the backup it’s a good idea to enroll in an online service like Carbonite that can keep your files safe in case of a fire or hurricane. And always, always send the finished versions of your manuscripts to a few trusted friends to hold onto. That way they will be saved in your “sent” files of your emailer if you set it up that way. I also send them to myself and save them in a folder on Yahoo just as a extra precaution. I can access them that way from any computer in the world in case of a hard drive crash.

Okay, so now that you know you’re safe whether or not you drop your laptop into the hotel pool, prepare to have access to your laptop while you have all those endless, otherwise boring hours in the airports.

Bring your charger in your online baggage, and if you’re working at the gate waiting for your flight to come in (sometimes this can be hours and hours…), be sure to find a spot where you can top off the battery for the flight.

Some airlines (like my recent flight to Germany on Lufthansa) don’t let you use laptops any more during the flight. In that case, have a good book ready. I keep books loaded on my iPhone (in case they let us use it on “airplane mode”) and also always carry a few paperbacks. Of course, we all know that reading is the best way to get inspired and learn the craft, so I consider this just an extension of my writing. But if you are allowed to power up during the flight, push your seat back as far as you can and get to work!

One of course must develop the ability to block out all the background noise in the airport terminal (it can be brutal!) or on the plane. But with the proper earplugs and focus, you might be able to write a few chapters while zooming across the globe.

Although I get terribly homesick when I’m on an extended trip away from family, I do find the time in the hotel—whether sitting at a breakfast table, by the pool, or in my room—provides some of the best writing time ever.

There are no dogs to let out, no honey-do lists, no gardens to weed, no televisions blaring in the background, no meals to prepare. There’s just that delicious, quiet, beckoning time to delve into my stories and go wild. Honestly, it can be some of the most productive writing time ever. I rarely even turn on the television when I’m at the hotel, because that’s one distraction I don’t need.

How do you write when you travel? Are you a pen and paper kind of writer? Do you imagine your next chapters in your head while relaxing with your eyes closed?

The lesson here is that requisite travel doesn’t have to mess up your writing schedule – it can actually enhance it!

Remember, if you love to write, write like the wind!

Aaron Lazar

Twilight Times Books by Kindle bestselling author Aaron Lazar:

DOUBLE FORTE' (new release 2012)
MAZURKA (2009)



WINNER 2011 Eric Hoffer BEST Book, COMMERCIAL FICTION * GRAND PRIZE FINALIST Eric Hoffer Book Award 2011 * 2X FINALIST Global eBook Awards 2011 * Preditors & Editors Readers Choice Award – 2nd place 2011* Winner of Carolyn Howard Johnsons’ 9th Annual Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize for Literature 2011 *  Finalist Allbooks Editors Choice Awards 2011 * Preditors&Editors Top 10 Finalist  *   Yolanda Renee's Top Ten Books 2008   *  MYSHELF Top Ten Reads 2008  * Writers' Digest Top 101 Website Award 2009 & 2010