Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who's That Knocking?

copyright, 2008, Aaron Paul Lazar

Good morning, friends and writers!

How was your week? Were you able to get much writing done? I am relieved because I finally got through the lengthy pdf ARC edits for two of my upcoming books, and also completed the dreaded synopses for both in 250, 150, and 50 word versions! Phew. Now THAT'S scary! I think writing the 50 word synopsis is harder than writing the books!

Glad that's over, now I can get back to writing Sanctuary, my third Tall Pines mystery.

With Halloween just around the corner (tomorrow, actually!), I thought I'd dig into the bowels of my articles to find something suitably spooktacular. ;o) (Can you say "reprint?" LOL.)

I thought I'd dust this piece off and share it with you today. Let me know if it gives you a chuckle or a thrill.


Who's That Knocking?

Living in an antique home has its problems, especially when you're not a handyman. My father taught me all sorts of wonderful things when he was alive, including an unbridled passion for the arts, gardening, nature, gourmet cooking, and the love of a good mystery. He didn't know much about mechanics, plumbing, electric, or woodworking. Though I've tried to learn over the years with self-help books and advice from friends, I remain singularly unhandy, perpetually bowing with an unholy need to the whims of the local plumber and electrician.

Take, for example, the twenty-six windows that are crumbling as we speak. The six-by-nine inch panes are coming loose from their wooden mullions with alarming frequency. Or the floorboards in the bedroom, a lovely old yellow pine, that poke up like teepees when it's hot and muggy. Yeah, they need to be treated with some kind of poly something-or-other, but for now, the moisture makes them swell. Consider the two wells that sometimes work in concert - except for the hundred times a year I have to run down to the cobwebbed cellar and reset the breakers or tap on the pump to make it work. The disadvantages are many.

But there are also great benefits, such as the three working fireplaces. Or the soil that surrounds the property, rich and black, untouched by bulldozers. It's not like the hard packed fill they put in the new housing tracts. I don't need to "amend" this soil. I just need to keep up with the produce and flowers.

Most intriguing of all, however, is the rich history.

Our house was built in 1811 by Dr. David Hunt. We just celebrated our 200th anniversary!

Okay, so compared to the homes in Europe, it's just an infant. But in terms of our country and its young age, it's amazing. Think about it. This house was built and lived in more than fifty years before the civil war!

Imagine the births, deaths, dramas, romances, and heartaches that occurred within these rooms. Did the inhabitants suffer from small pox? Starvation? Were they affluent? How many horses or cows did they own? And... how many ghosts linger in these plaster and lathe walls?

Let's examine the past 100 years. According to an elderly neighbor, over seven people have died on Hunts Corners. Traffic accidents. Maybe even horse and buggy accidents. Auto drivers not stopping for the all-way stop signs, or sliding on ice, or drunk drivers plowing right into the telephone pole. Sad to think about. Makes you wonder about their spirits. Did they ascend to Heaven? Or do a few guilty souls remain in the area, confused and wandering, seeking the path to redemption?

Recently, I began to ponder another death disclosed to me by a young neighbor friend. We began to correspond after he read a few of my books. He's a bright and entertaining young fellow who happens to be a voracious reader. We clicked. And we chat back and forth about books and life and sometimes... about the history of our area.

It seems Hunts Corners has a mystery all its own, stemming from the early 1900s. As the story goes, my young neighbor's great grandmother noticed something odd one day. While going about her daily duties, Mabel realized she hadn't seen the young girl who lived next door in a long time. Anna no longer attended school, and very rarely made an appearance outside the home. When she did, Mabel noticed a thickening in her middle, well-wrapped by heavy garments. She suspected the girl was with child. In that era, a pregnancy out of wedlock was unthinkable. Shameful. A sin. The family would endure public humiliation if news got out. So Anna was sequestered for nine long months as Mabel watched the child grow in her belly.

When the time came for the baby to be born, there was no activity in the house. No child was seen. No doctor arrived. All was quiet.

Speculation grew. Was the child stillborn? Or worse, was she murdered by a family cloaked in shame? Rumors were that the little baby was buried behind Anna's house.

Since then, there have been reports of children pointing behind the house, exclaiming about the "little girl in the weeds." The adults couldn't see her.

But I think I might have, last winter.

I rose early to photograph our Christmas lights. They were unusually festive last year, better than all past years. We'd added a few lighted deer for fun, and I was bound and determined to capture the beauty in the blackest of night. It was a clear, chill morning. Five A.M. Not a breeze stirred. Most households were fast asleep. Few cars passed by.

I brought my trusty Canon Powershot outdoors and took dozens of photos. Later, when I viewed them on my PC, I saw the ghost. There she was - looking straight at me with wide open eyes. Filmy, transparent, but with a clear face and body. Only two shots revealed her, although I took dozens that morning.

The photos are untouched, straight from the camera card. And yes, I know there's probably a scientific explanation. Maybe the light from the flash illuminated ice crystals in the air, causing a momentary illusion. But I'd like to ignore that for now and just consider it a visit from my friendly little ghost.

Last night I woke to a tapping sound. Usually it's Max, on his chair, scratching an itch and thumping up against the armrest. I rose to check, but he lay still, mouth open, breathing evenly.
Could it be my grandson knocking on the door? I looked. No one was there. All was quiet, no little boys or cats were hoping to gain entrance.

I went back to bed. The tapping resumed. Looking out the window, I noticed headlights flashing by, briefly illuminating the darkness. Was that a flash of white? A face? Or simply the reflection on wet streets?

The tapping resumed. Outside my window. On the second floor.

Could it be?

I buried my head beneath the covers and said my prayers.

Well, that's it for now, dear friends. I won't be around next weekend, so let's get together in two weeks, and until then, remember to take pleasure in the little things, and if you love to write, write like the wind!

Twilight Times Books by Kindle bestselling author Aaron Lazar:

DOUBLE FORTÉ (author’s preferred edition, 2012)  
MAZURKA (2009)



WINNER 2011 Eric Hoffer BEST Book, COMMERCIAL FICTION * FINALIST EPIC Awards 2011* 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 2009-2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review for DAMAGE CONTROL by Denise Hamilton

Book Review by Aaron Lazar
Author: Denise Hamilton
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN-10: 0743296745
ISBN-13: 978-0743296748
Price: $17.82 hardcover; $12.99 Kindle 
Author’s website:

DAMAGE CONTROL is a complex psychological thriller set in current day Los Angeles, peopled with vibrant characters battling fears of survival and loss, tautly stretched loyalties, and well-camouflaged villains.

The story begins when Maggie Silver—a young PR rep who’s struggling to support her cancer-stricken mother and keep a house with an upside-down mortgage—is assigned to insulate Senator Henry Paxton and his family from the press by spinning the sordid facts of his aide’s murder and protecting the family’s reputation. After all, the Senator has been tapped for a much higher office, and chances are he’ll move upward quickly.

The problem is Maggie knew the Senator’s family when she was a teenager and was the poor church mouse best friend of rich kid Anabelle Paxton. Years have passed, and in the time since they grew apart, neither has acknowledged or faced the memories of the one horrible night they shared on the beach.

Hamilton weaves some interesting themes throughout this complicated novel, including subtly erotic romance, power struggles and cover-ups, and dangerous flirtations with potential killers.

The author’s style is breezy and smooth, and occasionally she sneaks in some lovely poetic passages, well worth savoring.

“At the cemetery, Anabelle threw the first spade of earth on the coffin. The wind shifted and ash fell softly and silently over us all, blanketing the dark soil and clinging greasily to our clothes, reminding us of where we’d come from and where we would all return.”

(Note: the “ash” here refers to cinders from the wildfires burning nearby)

Here’s another simultaneously lovely and unsettling segment:

“A voice whispered at the edge of my consciousness as the jets screeched and the tide sucked the pebbles. If only I could make out the words. But it was just out of reach, echoing with faint, faraway laughter, taunting me with secret knowledge.


What if she’d crossed the highway to the ocean, swimming out until she drowned? I pictured her body carried on the swell of the waves, arms spread like wings, orange crabs crawling in and out of empty eye sockets, long blond ropes of hair floating like seaweed, a million microscopic sea animals clinging to her curves, illuminating her in a phosphorescent shroud.”

Most intriguing was the author’s inclusion of scents into the story. Hamilton’s descriptions of the perfumes Maggie loved and remembered was evocative and poetic, and her use of fragrance as a vital clue was brilliant. Her passages reminded me of my own passion for essential oils and their subtle, complex aromas capable of transporting one to places quite foreign and delicious. I discovered after reading the book that Denise Hamilton spends time with fragrance in a professional capacity (she blogs about perfume, for one thing) and this explained the interesting additions. See this passage:

“The previous Christmas, we’d stood at her mother’s vanity table, dabbing Caron’s Nuit de Noel behind our ears from the ravishing black Deco crystal flask. It was Christmas in a bottle, rich and exotic, all mulled wine and candied chestnuts, green pine with sandalwood and roses and a holiday goose roasting on the horizon. Anointed for midnight mass, we’d floated down the stairs in a cloud of scent and black velvet.”

Although this reviewer is hardly a perfume aficionado, the descriptions of this fragrance brought to mind the Young Living essential oil blend “Christmas Spirit,” a delightful amalgam of orange peel, cinnamon bark, and spruce leaf oil.

In DAMAGE CONTROL, surprises are deliciously revealed and sufficiently shocking. Denise Hamilton is a proficient writer who maintains perfect tension and keeps her readers turning the pages.

I recommend this tightly woven tale of deception and love.


Aaron Paul Lazar

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, 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).


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Another Brick...

copyright 2011 Ron Adams

Author's note: We don't usually submit our own fiction for our readers here at MB4, but thanks to my fellow writers, colleagues and friends Aaron. Marta, and Kim, I am pleased to offer this tribute to Edgar Allan Poe in honor of Halloween Week. Please feel free to leave a comment, good or bad. Who knows, there may be a copy of Key Lime Squeeze in it for you!

Sweat trickled down Charlie Murphy’s forehead as he dumped the dry mortar mix into the old steel mixing tub. Countless batches of mortar mix had been created in the ancient blue tank, scarred with dried mortar and dents, and this was just another dirty job. The dust clung to his face and arms as he reached for the hose hissing at his feet. He opened the sprayer to a light shower and added just enough to the mix. A flat spade shovel leaned against the half- built brick wall, and Charlie grabbed it with hands, working the water into the mix. His arms ached, his shoulders knotted with the days efforts. He figured this would be the last batch he’d have to make for this job. He was almost done.

A single bare hundred watt bulb illuminated the darkness in the corner of the basement. It was a little too bright, and if he wasn’t careful the light burned his eyes when he looked up toward his job. It cast long shadows into the corners, and past the wall he was building was as black as pitch. For a basement, the heat was almost stifling. Charlie couldn’t tell if it was the temperature of the room or the body heat he was throwing off, and didn’t care. He would be glad to get this done and get back upstairs to a cold beer and a shower.

He took his trowel and loaded it up with mortar, spreading a thick coat on the top of the bricks on the last course. His hands were rough and calloused from carrying loads of the red bricks down there, pressing them into place and making sure to clean the excess mortar between them. He had a bucket of water to clean his hands when the cement would cake on them, but mostly he stuck to his task. There was still the rest of the house to finish, once this particular job was complete.

Charlie bought this house just after the divorce. He never knew what hit him, until a server handed him the papers. The next thing he knew he was out of the house he shared with his wife of ten years and in divorce court. The entire process was swift, sudden and devastating. He came home one night after pulling a double to find her in bed with another man. They didn’t even try to hide, and the man brazenly brushed his shoulder as he left. They fought, for a time, but there was no use in fighting. He couldn’t live at that house; the past two years he was hardly there anyway, what with his schedule at work and overtime. He had to get away, and was only at his old house long enough to allow him time to find this country house out in Freedom. The irony of the name struck him sometimes. But in the end that’s truly what he had.

The old farmhouse needed some work, but Charlie could do most things himself. Nineteen acres of land surrounded the new home, giving him plenty privacy. Most of his neighbors had similar spreads, so he had a fair distance between the nearest ones. He lived most of his life in the city, on what amounted to a postage stamp’s worth of land, so this was a very welcome change. The air was fresh and clean, and he could enjoy a little privacy. He wouldn’t have to listen to the sirens and the noise from the neighbors. It was a good place for a new start.

The basement was the first project he had to do before he could finish the upstairs. The old couple that had this farm house before him saw fit to put in a large root cellar, an earthen pantry cut into the back basement wall, perfect for storing potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, whatever. But Charlie had no desire for the dank smell that permeated the basement, so the first thing he did was to finish building a cement block wall across the back and sides, effectively creating an alcove. He hated to lose the extra storage space he created by putting up this brick front, but it had to be done. He had the wall almost halfway built, when he realized he hadn’t eaten since last night. Good time to grab something, he figured, and ran his hands under the hose before ascending the stairs. Each step on the old wooden staircase shook and creaked, and some of the steps needed to be replaced before they rotted away. He would have to get to those soon.

The kitchen was bare save for a countertop with a boom-box style radio and the old Kenmore refrigerator. There was a pump bottle of hand sanitizer by the sink, and he used it to clean his hands before making a sandwich. The clean smell of the sanitizer liquid was a welcome change from the air in the basement. He grabbed a piece of cold fried chicken from the night before out of the fridge, and a bottle of Coors Light beer to wash it down. Charlie flipped on the radio to the local classic rock station, where Eric Clapton wailed on the guitar. He pulled at the breaded chicken breast, tearing a piece off before chewing it.

He took a long swallow off his beer, and leaned wearily against the counter. He had been working non-stop all night, and now it was almost noon. While he was working along, he felt fine. Once he stopped, once he rested a moment, he could feel the weight of his effort pressing down on him. He felt the exhaustion, wanting to lie on the couch for an hour. Then the need to get back to work, to finish what he started took over.

At the top of the stairs he could hear a groan coming from the bottom. He stopped, waiting to make sure of what he heard, then flipped the light switch. The bottom of the staircase was illuminated in that stark white light he had been laboring in all night.

“Who’s there?” a voice called. It sounded like a man’s voice, but weak, smaller somehow.

Charlie proceeded down the stairs and back to the wall he was building. The voice called out again.“Hello? Is anyone out there?”

“Hey, you’re awake,” Charlie called back.

“Charlie? Murphy? Is that you?”

“Why is it you smart lawyers only ask questions you already know the answers to?” Charlie replied. He added a small amount of water to his mortar mix, and used the trowel to get the cement back the way he could work with it. Satisfied, he grabbed enough bricks for three more rows and brought them over to the wall and started the next course.

“Charlie!” the man screamed. “Let me outta here, for Chrissakes!”

“Larry,” Charlie responded, “I’m glad you’re awake. I was starting to get lonely down here with no one to talk to.”

“What the hell is going on?” Larry demanded.

“Again, you know the answer to that one, too, Councilor.”

“So help me God, Charlie, I am going to…” Larry lunged forward and felt the cord around his neck tighten. He choked, and reached forward and found his arms similarly bound and connected to the concrete block wall behind him. He glared toward the opening in front of him, and found it narrowing.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked his captor.

Charlie worked quietly, continuing to add row after row of brick. “Do you remember when you and Mary Lou got caught naked in our bed, Larry? Remember how you told me you wanted to spend the rest of your life with her?”

“Yeah. But c’mon, Charlie, your marriage was pretty much over before then. You know it. Mary Lou deserved better than an out of work construction worker and part-time handyman. I could give her things you couldn’t.”

Charlie kept working steadily, only three more rows to go. He left one brick out of the row he was working on, and built right over the top of the whole.“So what, are you trying to scare me, Charlie? Are you so deluded to think the Mary Lou would ever want to come back to a loser like you? Well, I’m not scared, Charlie!”

“I wouldn’t try to scare you, Larry. I know you’re much too smart for that, you’d never fall for some scare tactic.” Charlie continued working on the row he was on. “Besides, you’re a lawyer. I could get in serious trouble if I harmed a lawyer. Heck, you might even sue me or something,” he smiled.

“Goddamn right, pal! Now get me outta here!”

“Were you screwing Mary Lou before or after you were her attorney? Because, if it was after, let me tell you she wasn’t the only one you screwed.” Charlie kept working, mortar then brick. The opening was getting smaller. He was thinking about the weeks he planned for this. They were never very good at being discreet, so following them a distance was child’s play. When they stopped at the Glen Rose Inn, he took the opportunity to disable the lawyer’s Mercedes Benz with a stiletto to the sidewalls of his right side tires. When the happy couple found themselves not only without a ride but without cell phone service to call for help, who should happen by but poor old Charlie?

Larry and Mary Lou knew he had moved out to the sticks after the divorce, so running into him with an offer of a ride was nothing more than a happy coincidence. Larry seemed a bit standoffish, and Mary Lou was as embarrassed as she was humiliated to see Charlie one more time. He kept to the high road, insisting there were no hard feelings. The sky began to open up, and a cold, hard rain chilled them as they mulled the decision. Charlie shrugged his shoulders, and slid behind the wheel. He turned the key, and immediately heard the couple rapping on the passenger door as they pleaded for his help. Once they climbed in his car, Charlie was again in charge of his life.

“You mean this is about the settlement?” Larry shouted. “Come on Charlie, you know she was entitled to everything she got. You shoulda had a better lawyer.”“I have one now.”“That’s not funny, you smug ....." Larry screamed. “You can’t do this to me!”

Being a proper host and an overall good-guy, he offered to let the couple use his phone to call for a tow truck. He even offered the two a drink, to prove there were no hard feelings. Mary Lou complained at first of feeling sick, and passed out on the kitchen floor. Larry was on the phone with the automobile club when he heard her drop, and spun around to see what happened. The combination of movement and valium in his beer caused him to fall, striking his head on the old farm house table on the way down. That was several hours ago, and Charlie was surprised at the weight of the two of them as he brought them down the stairs to his basement. Good thing I’ve been working out with those damned bricks, Charlie thought as he chained Mary Lou to the back wall, with Larry right beside her.

“You see, the thing is,” Charlie replied, “I am doing it to you. You and Mary Lou made it easy for me. I knew when you stopped in that bar outside of town. Were you two coming out here to gloat? Were you coming out to see how far I sank after you took everything from me? Oh I sank alright, right down to this basement. Do you like what I’ve done with the place?”

Charlie stepped away from the closing hole in the wall long enough to load his trowel. He brought a half a dozen bricks back to the wall, and looked in at Larry. From his point of view, Larry could only see half of Charlie’s head through the opening. Charlie smiled as he looked at his work. “Geez, Larry. You don’t look to good. In fact, I’d say you look like somebody spiked your drink and dragged you into a basement.”

“You’ve finally snapped! You’ve lost it! You can’t leave me here to die all alone!” Larry was panicking, realizing he was never again getting out of his newly constructed tomb.

“You know, Lar, that’s the first thing you and I agree on,” Charlie said, leaving one last brick out of the wall. He took a flashlight and shined it on the floor of the crypt. Illuminated was the body of his ex-wife, her lifeless form on the dirt floor just inches away from her lover.“I built this with room for two. After all, I’m just granting you your wish. Now you can spend the rest of your life with her.”

“Charlie!” he cried in despair.“Have a nice life, Larry. Enjoy your company.”


Charlie slid the last brick into place, muffling the cries of the doomed lawyer. The only sound he could hear was the radio upstairs, the haunting sounds of an old Pink Floyd song drifting down from above. He climbed the rickety stairs, and never heard the cracking of the step two- thirds of the way up.

He lost his footing and fell through the risers, twisting backwards as he fell to the floor. He landed on the side and back of his head, his neck making a sickening snap and crunch. He immediately loss all sensation and movement in his arms and legs. His head throbbed, and he tried to will himself to his feet. His body would not respond.

Charlie tried to move his head to look around at where he was The only movement he had was his eyes, which could scan just the half of the basement he had been working on. He was within feet of the only other person who could help, and Charlie made sure he couldn’t help.

Laying in the dirt and dust, he felt his breath becoming more ragged. He couldn’t cry out. Nobody would hear him. All he could do is stare at the wall, and listen to the radio. He was getting short of breath, no longer able to draw air in deep. As he started to black out, Charlie heard pounding coming from the back corner of the basement, and the final refrain of the song from the radio upstairs.

“All in all you’re just another brick in the wall…”


Monday, October 24, 2011

Opinion: Twitter–from Tweetspeak to Babytalk?

  copyright 2011, Marcia Applegate

My opinion: Twitter is quick communication on the fly, but using it effectively requires some thought to shorten the ideas so they can be properly and fully communicated in 140 characters. Not thinking ahead risks serious or hilarious misunderstandings.
Above graf in Twitter-speak: Tweets quick, concise, think 140, preview gets clarity & no regret, no joke.
Problem: Thinking clearly and expressing it concisely requires forethought, sometimes a considerable amount spent mulling it over. But we don’t always have that time to spend analyzing our tweets. That’s where we get ourselves in the soup. Admittedly, the first illustrative graf above isn’t something that I would be likely to put on Twitter in the first place; Twitter isn’t designed for philosophical musing.
And I am a writer who writes, then writes again, then rewrites, then rewrites again, and so on, until I finally decide that I’m done, finis, end of story, 30, and I’m satisfied that what I’ve written is the clearest way of saying what I want to say. Someone else can disagree, but that’s okay.
The first illustration, the long one, I wrote on the fly, and went back a couple of times to tweak the wording a little, Miss Thistlebottom/wordsmith that I am. It’s simply opinion, and doesn’t have any content that would get me in trouble if I dashed it off in 140 characters and sent it on its way. It’s innocuous in its message, and even if shortened without thought probably wouldn’t have offended my intended audience. (You weren’t, were you?)
What is most remarkable here—and it may be the result of age-related mental slowdown and the need to search for words, especially that exactly-right word that is tickling the back of my mind—is that the second illustration took me about three times as long to put together as the original longer version. And I had the printed version to look at, not just an amorphous opinion floating in my head that I wanted to pass on to the wide world out there in ether-land.
What made me start on this philosophical it’s-just-my-opinion binge was when I was tweeting about a new posting on my blog,, the tweet exceeded the 140-character limit and I needed to shorten it. Substituting shorter words of course is the only repair, but you have to come up with appropriate ones; for one word I went to to choose a short-enough synonym.
Once I got that tweet into the proper number of characters, I then put up a couple more tweets and found myself automatically and instantly grasping for a short word every time. That’s a good thing, huh, tweet-wise? Well, maybe so, but I’m not sure.
I’ve read lots of concerns, criticisms and cautions from people who use Twitter, some who have been using it since its inception; I’m a newbie just beginning to use social media since I have a blog I want to share. Some people love Twitter for its brevity, some share my opinion, some really don’t care, just put some words up and let it fly.
But even from my newbie, short-timer point of view, it seems to me that the effect of thinking in 140 characters probably is not a good thing over the long-term for English—or whatever language one speaks.  This potential for negative results from Twitter on language probably won’t be fully addressed until some Twitter users begin to realize that their everyday vocabularies are basically non-existent except for a very long lexicon of very short words. I find myself asking about my own Twitter prognosis:
  • When am I going to start thinking in short bursts, no longer able to give mind space to complex concepts that require thinking and rethinking, much the way my written words require rewriting before I get them right?
  • Will my need to be short and concise when tweeting lead to being short and concise when thinking, then speaking in short bursts of teeny tiny words?
  • Then will I regress from tweetspeak to babytalk?
  • Will I then become unable to speak at all when my list of short words gets depleted beyond speech?
  • Will there be, sometime in the future, a medically accepted definition of a specific type of aphasia/dementia related to many years of tweeting? Twitterentia? Tweetdementia?
Obviously, my tongue is firmly implanted in my cheek and my opinion is an exaggeration as I write it in 2011, but my point still has a certain degree of validity, especially for people who are heavy users of Twitter and have been doing the 140-character tango for many years.  
Above graf in Twitter-speak: Sarcastic but point valid, too much time on 140-characters, bad? Less time, more brain, good? Hyperbole? Who knows.
Only time will tell.
The constant advance of technology will very likely solve the problem for us in the future. What that solution might be I can only imagine. Maybe some software that will let us highlight a paragraph, click a “Twitterize” button, and it automatically will convert the text, whatever length it is originally, into 140 characters.
Now, what fun that promises to be. If you’ve ever tried a speech-to-text program, you probably know what I mean.


About Marcia Applegate:

I'm a retired communications consultant with major firms, writer, columnist, and blogger, now living in Asheville N.C. We moved here from Chicago. We love Asheville's culture and quirkiness, the gorgeous mountains and the interesting and welcoming people.

We still miss Chicago, though, and visit when we can. We have children, grandchildren, and great-grands scattered across the country. I've been reading and writing all my life, for pay and for fun. Love all kinds, especially mysteries. Now for fun, I'm reviewing on my blog much of what I read, and have lots and lots of opinions on this and that.

Here are some links to some other opinions I've posted on I'd love your comments, if you choose to drop by. While you're there, do take a look at the posted reviews. I hope you'll enjoy the read.

An English newspaper claims mysteries aren't literary.

What makes a good review, from one reviewer's perspective.

Some thoughts on revenge in mystery and in life.

A rant about overdone, overblown, overdrawn melodrama.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review for STEALING FACES by Michael Prescott

Review by Aaron Paul Lazar
Title: Stealing Faces
Author: Michael Prescott
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services, Ulverscroft
Genre: Thriller
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook
ISBN-10: 0708943500
ISBN-13: 978-0708943502
ASIN: B00547KH66
Price: Kindle, $ 0.99; Large Print, $29.91
Author’s website:

I’ve been reading and reviewing a fair amount of books this year, all of them quite good, and most of them on Kindle. Of course, I vet them before I accept a review request by reading the first few pages and the synopsis. There’s nothing worse than reviewing a book that bores you to tears or that just isn’t your cup of tea. So I almost always love the titles I accept.

In the midst of all these excellent books, however, came STEALING FACES. This high suspense thriller literally knocked my socks off.

Mr. Prescott’s writing style is what hooked me from the beginning. Smooth, tight, and fast flowing, the prose held me as spellbound as the suspense. Frankly, STEALING FACES is one of the best-written novels I’ve come across in a very long time, and I can’t believe I haven’t discovered Mr. Prescott’s work to date.

Cray has been stalking and killing women for over a decade. Well-respected by day, savage hunter by night, the man’s character is impeccably drawn using inner thoughts and dialog. The contrast between his day job (revealed partway through the book) and his secret, sick obsession, accentuates his evil.

Now, meet protagonist Elizabeth Palmer. Desperate, broke, resourceful, and lovely, this woman has fixated on finding and bringing Cray to justice since she escaped his clutches twelve years earlier.

From the first primal scream of Cray’s victim to the kaleidoscope of terror-filled memories experienced by Elizabeth, Prescott doesn’t let his readers relax, or even take a breath. Both characters, juxtaposed brilliantly against each other, drive the story forward to its very satisfying conclusion.

The plot is well recounted in many of the 100 plus reviews on Amazon, so let it suffice for me to say that many plot threads and themes are tightly woven into this book, with shock after shock and absolutely no letting down of the tension. I would actually recommend STEALING FACES as a primer for those interested in pursuing a career in writing thrillers.

Thank you, Mr. Prescott, for showing us all how it should be done, and for several nights of delicious, exhilarating thrills.

Highly recommended by Aaron Paul Lazar.

Aaron Lazar

Friday, October 21, 2011

What's a Good Title for a Book? Ask My Mother-in-Law

copyright 2011, Mike Wells

I’ll never forget the night I took my wife-to-be out to dinner and subtly asked about her parents.  When you get serious about someone, you naturally want to find out who your future in-laws are going to be.

“So what does your mom do?” I casually asked. 

“She writes a gossip column for a...well, some people might call it a 'yellow' newspaper.”

I searched the restaurant for the nearest exit—we hadn’t actually ordered any food yet.

“Come on, Mike.  She’s really sweet, I promise.”

Yeah.  So is a Bengal tiger, when its belly is packed full of fresh meat.

My fiancée dug around in her purse and pulled out a photograph.  "Just look at that face..."

The woman was grinning at me, a pencil behind her ear, one eyebrow raised.

This didn’t help.  Talk about “walking the line!”  One wrong move and she could destroy me with a single stroke of that pencil.

Well, love overcomes fear, and I got married anyway.

It turns out that, as a novelist, having a gossip columnist for a mother-in-law is one of the best things that ever happened to me.  And not for the reasons you may think—Luba has never written one word about any of my books (not that it would do any good—she lives and works in Latvia, which is not exact the center of my geographic market!)

What Luba is a genius at is titling books.  Having worked for so many years as a “yellow journalist”, she knows exactly what hits readers’ hot buttons.

When I finished my international thriller about currency counterfeiting, I titled it In God We Trust.

It hardly sold a single copy.  One day Luba overheard me complaining about it.

“Is it a religious book?” she asked.

“No, it’s an international thriller.”

“Sounds like a religious book.”

Exasperated, I said, “It’s not a religious book, Luba.”

“What kind of book is it, then?”

“’s about’s about’s about murder—”

“There’s your title,” she said, pointing at me.

“Where’s my title?”

 “Lust, Money & Murder.”

I was skeptical, but I decided to try it.  As soon as I changed the name of the book, people started buying it.

Not long after that, I was finishing up another novel, a paranormal thriller.

“What’s it called?” Luba asked.

Hesitating, I said, “A Gift from the Stars.”

She lolled her head to one side, closed her eyes, and made a snoring sound.


“Well, it sounds boring.  What’s it about?”

“It’s about this guy who mysteriously disappears when his family is on vacation in—”

“A mysterious disappearance, then.”


“What’s the guy’s name?”

“Kurt Kramer.”

She pointed at me.  “The Mysterious Disappearance of Kurt Kramer.”

I changed the title. 

The book started selling. 

Now, I no longer resist Luba’s suggestions.  I recently published a novel that I was calling Cosmic Casanova, and it wasn’t selling at all.

“Sounds like science fiction,” she muttered.

Even though I don’t resist her suggestions, she still makes me mad.  “It’s not science fiction, Luba.  It’s a romance novel.”

She raised an eyebrow.  “Oh, really?”

“Yes, really.  It’s about this guy who’s dating several women at the same time, and he wants to keep them secret from each other—”

“So it’s about secrets.”


“Lover’s secrets.”

“Yes.  The guy in the story is kind of dodgy, is hard-to-get.  You know, elusive—”

She pointed at me.  “Secrets of the Elusive Lover.”

I don’t have to tell you how that one ended.
Mike Wells is American bestselling author of 'unputdownable' thrillers and also teaches in the Creative Writing program at Oxford. See his blog at:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Where Do Characters Come From?

© Paul Martin Midden 2011 all rights reserved

I was trying to explain to a friend the other day how I got my ideas for characters in my novels.

“Where do you get these people?” she asked.

It’s not an easy thing to explain. For one thing, I don’t know how other writers create, develop, or fill in their characters; all I know is how I do mine. And mostly it’s as much a mystery to me as it is to anybody else.

But as with most mysteries, there are some things I know about it. I know, for instance, that all my characters start with just a spark. A ‘divine spark’ might be a little pretentious, but it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate. It begins with a name, a basic idea, and a step off a cliff.

In my novels, I start with a name. I don’t know where the names come from. In my first novel, the first name was ethnic, it was odd, and it was perfect. I didn’t want to write about John or Tom or Brad or Trevor. But I apparently did want to write about Radko. I don’t think I even knew it was a name until it showed upon my computer screen. The rest is mystical. Radko (and then Jake and then Jeremy, in subsequent books) emerged out of the narrative in a manner that remains inexplicable to me. I am as eager to find out how my characters think and what they do as any future reader might be. It is at times an engaging process, at other times an exhilarating one. It is never a tedious one.

The basic idea is the opening situation. I love openings. They are the seeds that contain and dictate what follows, what forms throughout the narrative. Those beginnings come to me all at once. I suppose that is called ‘inspiration’. It feels more like fun.

The cliff is a little more complicated. It has to do with how alien writing fiction is from what I do in my professional life and especially from the professional writing I’ve done. Mostly, I write psychological reports. Now you might think that is great preparation for writing fiction, but the truth is that most psychological report writing is as dry as the Sahara. And because I do a lot of them, they are often as equally tedious. An analytical, fact-gathering, limited-hypothesis kind of thing.

Writing fiction, on the other hand, has little to do with rationality. When I was kicking around ideas for my first novel, I tried to plan it out; organize it the way I would a report of some kind. Bad plan. The characters were thin, contrived, and for the most part reflective of various psychological issues of my own which I am too embarrassed to mention in a public space.

But then I ran across Ann Lemott’s lovely little book, BIRD BY BIRD. I am sure many if not most writers are familiar with it. In it, she describes her daily process of writing 500 ‘shitty words’. The next day, she goes back and revises those and adds another 500. This was a revelation for me. It freed me to do an end run around my overly intellectual, data-gathering, analytical habits that I have relied on for so long in my work. It allowed me to allow my characters to emerge, much as Michelangelo’s famous unfinished slaves seem to emerge from the blocks of marble from which they originated.

Because I cannot easily break years of habit—I am a psychologist, after all—I imagine sometimes that there are meaningful psychological connections between myself and my characters. In fact, I am sure of it. But I don’t care about that. What I care about is the process of creation, of being witness to those characters coming to life. What I care about are the characters themselves. I love them. As I said, it’s like falling off a cliff.

I am reminded of the time when I was just starting professional practice, and I asked an older colleague a question that is on the minds of most young professional psychologists.

“Phil, where do patients come from?”

Phil’s eyes twinkled in that distinctly Jewish way, and he smiled and said simply, “They come from God.”

About the author:

Paul Martin Midden is a practicing psychologist and the author of two previous novels, ABSOLUTION and TOXIN.  He lives in Saint Louis, Missouri. ONE VOICE TOO MANY is Midden’s latest novel. Visit Paul Midden online at:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interview with Author Sheila Deeth

APL: Sheila, how many books have you written? I think I counted 20 book covers on your website, which is amazing. What genres do your books span?

SD: My ebooks with Gypsy Shadow are all spiritual speculative fiction. I write Bible fiction too, which I self-publish and sell on my Lulu storefront. And I write novels—my first one’s coming out next summer with Stonegarden. Plus short stories… plus poems… plus whatever… If you count all my children’s Bible books, and a couple of anthologies that included my short stories, that really does make 20—but some of them are picture books so they’re really very short. (I draw my own pictures too.)

APL: Do you have a favorite genre to read or write?

SD: My kids say I have no taste because I’ll read almost any genre and listen to almost any type of music. I seem to be writing a lot of spiritual speculative fiction at the moment, but it’s probably just a phase. I love writing the children’s Bible stories too. I just like to read and write.

APL: I loved your explanation of why you hold a passion for rainbows on your website. You said you are “an English American, a Catholic Protestant, a mathematician that can't add up and a writer that can't spell, a contradiction in search of a direction...” Can you elaborate on that mysterious quote?

SD: Well, it’s all true. I grew up, married and had kids in England, then we moved to the States while the kids were still in school; we had green cards back then, and ten years later we finally became US citizens. I’m a Catholic Protestant because my Dad was Catholic and my Mum’s Methodist; I grew up Catholic but ended up being a Church of England lay reader, free evangelical worship leader, Presbyterian elder, and now a Christian Reformed Sunday school teacher. My brother’s a Catholic priest though and my uncle served a term as President of Gideons in England. As to the math, I’ve got a bachelors and masters degrees in mathematics from Cambridge University England, so I must be a mathematician, but it was always the abstract math that appealed to me, patterns, manipulation of ideas, logic and all that. And, of course, I love to write. I was finally beginning to understand the rules of spelling when my kids were in elementary school, but then we moved to the States…

APL: You are originally from the UK, and have over time migrated to Oregon. How did this happen, and did any part of this journey inspire your stories or characters?

SD: We moved to Utah first with my husband’s job, then to Oregon when outsourcing caught up with us. I’m not sure moving’s ever directly inspired my stories, but it probably helped me recognize how culture influences thought. Things we imagine are blatantly obvious can look very different from a different point of view, and I make a deliberate habit of seeking out unexpected viewpoints when I write fiction. My Bible stories usually center on children that might have lived in the real historical, scientific world, so again, the point of view might be a little different.

APL: Were you a reader when you were a child? Who were your favorite authors?

SD: I’ve always read voraciously but I remember I wasn’t keen on fairy tales, didn’t like the Hobbit, couldn’t get into Narnia, loathed Alice in Wonderland, and really, really, really hated the Snow Queen. (I like them all now!) I can’t remember what my favorite childhood books were—Westerns, Gollantz Science fiction with those bright yellow covers, James Bond, anything on my big brother’s or my Granddad’s bookshelf…

APL: I checked out your Linked In profile, and discovered you used to write software test plans. It’s neat, because in my old day job, I used to write test plans for large electromechanical devices (high speed printers). At any time, did your day job influence your writing?

SD: Only to the extent that I kept the stories in my head and didn’t write them down. I was doing a lot of children’s sermons at church back then, and when I lost my job I turned them into a book. But working and looking after kids and home didn’t leave much time or energy—besides which, the kids monopolized the computer and my ancient typewriter was so slow the keys kept getting tangled.

APL: Have certain people in your life influenced your characters more than others?

SD: Not really. My kids used to believe I used them in all my stories but it wasn’t true. I used bits of them, and bits of everyone else, and lots of random memories.

APL: Have you ever worked with or been a writing mentor? A critique partner? If so, tell us about these experiences and how they influenced your books or writing.

SD: I’ve never really worked one-on-one with anyone, though I do meet one of my friends from our local writing group on a regular basis. We drink coffee, encourage each other, and borrow and critique each other’s work; it certainly helps to see what we’ve written through different eyes. The local writing group’s been really good for me too—some of their writing prompts grew into my published stories, and taking part in group critiques has made me a much better editor of my own work.

APL: I see that God has found his way into many of your books. How has He influenced your writing or story content? What do you hope to teach your readers about God?

SD: I guess I’d like my stories to entertain and intrigue first of all. But I hope they might encourage readers to think critically too—believers to realize they maybe don’t have all the answers; Christian believers to read the Bible instead of relying on other people’s interpretations; and non-believers to recognize there might be more to life (and maybe the Bible) than meets the eye.

APL: Please tell us what the best website is for us to learn more about your books and how to purchase them.

SD: You can find all my books at

My ebooks are available on Gypsy Shadow’s website at
or on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc.

My Inspired by Faith and Science storefront is at

APL: Tell us about your newest book and when we will be able to buy it!

My latest book has just been released. It’s an ebook called FLOWER CHILD. It tells the story of a grieving mother and her unborn child and draws, in part, from my own experience of miscarriage:

When Megan miscarries her first pregnancy it feels like the end of everything; instead it’s the start of a curious relationship between the grieving mother and an unborn child who hovers somewhere between ghost and angel. Angela, Megan’s “little angel,” has character and dreams all her own, friends who may or may not be real angels, and a little brother who brings hope to her mother’s world. But Angela’s dream-world has a secret and one day Angela might learn how to be real.

You can buy FLOWER CHILD direct from the publisher at

APL:  Thank you for joining us here today, Sheila!

SD: My pleasure, Aaron.

Author Bio: Sheila Deeth grew up in the UK and has a Bachelors and Masters in mathematics from Cambridge University, England. Now living in the States with her husband and sons, she enjoys reading, writing, drawing, telling stories, running a local writers' group, and meeting her neighbors’ dogs on the green.

Sheila describes herself as a Mongrel Christian Mathematician. Her short stories, book reviews and articles can be found in VoiceCatcher 4, Murder on the Wind, Poetic Monthly, Nights and Weekends, the Shine Journal and Joyful Online. Besides her Gypsy Shadow ebooks, Sheila has several self-published works available from Amazon and Lulu, and a full-length novel under contract to come out next year.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I’m Happy with My Small Press Publishers

© Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith 2011 all rights reserved

Recently, I attended a writers’ conference that gave a lot of information about epublishing. One of the main speakers was Mark Coker who owns and runs Smashwords. He had a lot of interesting information to impart, the majority about Smashwords and how you can publish an e-book through them. One of his comments, though, was that Smashwords publishes anything—the good, bad and ugly.

He cautioned anyone using Smashwords to make sure the writing was as good as possible, the manuscript properly edited and that the cover professional looking with all the correct information. He shared some examples of covers that were awful.

I’m sure everyone knows about publishing on Kindle too, but the same cautions apply: a good book first, properly edited and a professional looking cover.

With both entities, you must follow their guidelines to put it in the proper format so it flows and looks as a book should.

I write two series, producing two books a year. My goal, of course is to produce a good book. Every chapter I write is heard and critiqued by my writing group. Of course, I do multiple rewrites, and I have a couple of beta readers.

When I send off my book to either one of my publishers I know that the book will be edited once again. I’ll get to go over the galley proof. The formatting of the book will be done by the publishers. For one publisher, I have a questionnaire to fill out about what I’d like or not like for the cover of the book, the other publisher asks me informally. I don’t have to design the front, back and spine of the cover. If I don’t like what the cover artist has come up with, I can ask for changes.

Both my publishers do trade paperbacks using the POD printing process and see that the books get onto the proper book sites. They both also make sure that the book is set up for all the e-book readers.

Some promotion is done by both publishers, books are sent out for review—though I still have to do a lot of the promoting. No matter who I was published by, I’d have to do the major share of the promotion.

Frankly, I barely have enough time to do what I’m doing now, writing and promoting my books, I don’t want to take the time to first learn how to produce an e-book and then do it. I have a life to live too.

I’m quite happy to let both my publishers, Mundania Press (publishes my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series) and Oak Tree Press (Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series), do what they do far better than I would do—or even want to do.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
Latest book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series: BEARS WITH US

CONTEST DETAILS: Would you like to be immortalized in print? Marilyn Meredith is running a contest during her BEARS WITH US virtual book tour. Whoever leaves a comment on the most blog sites during the tour, will have his or her name used for a character in Marilyn’s next book. Please visit for her entire schedule. Good luck!