Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review - Silenced Cry

I last wrote about my 50 page rule, how I give every book 50 pages to capture my interest. However, every once in a while in a while, in the very back of my mind, there comes this wee soft whisper that says, “Go ahead, try that one again. You’re ready.”

I was in the middle of editing one novel, still working through another in progress, and wound up picking up a crime/mystery novel of such depth and complexity, I was too distracted to appreciate it. So, following my own advice, I put it down after the obligatory 50 pages. And then came the voice, and I have to tell you, I’m so glad I listened to it.

In the interest of full disclosure, “Silenced Cry” is the first in the Sam Harper mystery series by my friend and colleague, Marta Stephens. You who have read her many contributions here know what an extraordinary talent she is. Trust me, her novels are even better.

When Detective Sam Harper's partner, Frank Gillies, gets a tip a suspect in a high profile drug case they’ve been following is hanging out in a seedy dive bar, they hurry to apprehend him. In an instant, the bust goes sour and faster than anyone can think, Gillies and the suspect are lying on a rain-puddled street, awash in their own blood.

To prevent Harper from going off on a vendetta against the drug kingpin responsible for his partner’s death, the precinct captain transfers him from Narcotics to Homicide, trying to bury him away under a pile of cold case files. But even the new assignment doesn’t deter Harper from sticking his nose in the investigation that killed his friend and mentor. Each discovery leads to another unanswered question about Gillies' past and his connection to the criminals they were chasing.  Sam tries to move forward, but becomes irate when he's teamed with a new partner, David Mann, who hails from a notorious precinct, ripe with corruption. While not convinced of his new partner’s honesty, Harper and Mann learn to tolerate each other. Their first case calls them to a construction site to investigate remains found in a sealed up wall, a baby placed in the concrete casket shortly after birth.

The case begins to consume Harper and Mann, who dig into the past with a new found determination. Not content to let his old case die, he finds strange connections with his and Gillies' past, and soon learns there is a connection even to the dead baby in the wall. The search for answers brings the readers along for a breakneck rollercoaster ride, where nothing is as it seems, and Harper is forced to stand alone as everything he thought he knew is called into question.

The climax is among the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had at the end of a book. In the end, I broke my own rules to come back to a book and character I truly have come to admire, and an artist and wordsmith I respect and learn from every chance I get.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Book Review for Black Cow by Magdalena Ball

Author:  Magdalena Ball
Publisher: BeWrite
Genre: Literary Fiction, 290 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-927086-46-9
EPUB eBook ISBN: 978-1-927086-47-6
MOBI eBook ISBN: 978-1-927086-48-3
PDF eBook ISBN: 978-1-927086-49-0
Price:  $14.01
Publisher website address: http://www.bewrite.net/
Author’s personal website: http://www.magdalenaball.com
Reading a book by Magdalena Ball is a wonderfully peculiar experience. One moment, you’re sitting innocently in your chair with your Kindle, and the next minute you are whisked inside the brains and bodies of her characters, intimately connected with their soaring spirits or their angst.  

I’ve read Ms. Ball’s books before, and have been enthralled by them. SLEEP BEFORE EVENING was the first novel I read, and I was absorbed by the well-told story. I’ve read her poetry, and been impressed with the way she weaves love and science and the wonder of the universe into her work without sounding pretentious or sappy.

BLACK COW, her new release, is a literary novel that breaks through to new levels, immersing her readers into the lives of an Australian family in very serious trouble. The problems don’t show on the outside, but they’re deeply ingrained in the fabric of the family, in their souls, and in their hearts. The metamorphosis of this very authentic family hurts, is hard-earned, and will make you beg for resolution.

It’s not an unpleasant experience—on the contrary—but it feels so real that the reader will absorb Ms. Ball’s characters’ pain like litmus paper soaks up water. I literally had to put the book down and stop for a while, because the stress James and Freya experienced in their intensely acquisitive world felt so uncomfortable that I thought my own blood pressure was spiking.

I ached for them to stop the madness, to look at each other and help each other, and to start thinking about what matters most in life.

Not only do husband and wife James and Freya, or their children Cameron and Dylan jump off the pages, but their inner thoughts and dialogue ring true. Written in third person POV, the reader moves effortlessly from mother to father, to anorexic daughter to the love-starved son. It feels natural and not forced, which is often a hard situation for 3rd person writers to avoid. See this segment from the daughter’s point of view just after her grandmother passed:

Cameron began to cry, so silently that it was almost not a cry at all, just falling rain on three generations of women through the memories of past, the unreliability of the present and the non-existent future. In the cooling entropy of now, she felt a deep connection with the woman who appeared on the page before her, and then jerked her head up, shocked by the snapping of the string. It was as if a helix had unwound inside her. Suddenly the room seemed intensely empty and looking at the picture, Cameron knew that her grandmother was dead.

What resonated most with me were the epic truths behind the story. I often lament today’s society where kids rarely play outdoors just for fun, where their lives are over-organized with everyone hurrying from one activity to another, where every room in the house has a television/DVD player and/or cable box, where each parent has a nice new car, where even children have iPods or iPhones or iPads, where families go on lavish vacations, where shopping is forever for new items (God forbid people are seen near a Salvation Army or Goodwill store, where so many good deals are to be had!), where meals are mostly takeout or quick-fix versions because both parents have to work to help pay for all the prior junk, and where there are few if any slow-cooked meals in anyone’s lives…  

What happened to one parent being home, making real mashed potatoes, cooking banana bread, or simmering a stew all day long? What happened to the freedom of coming home from school, getting hugs from mom or dad, finishing up homework, and running outside to simply play? What happened to picking up a stick to sword fight, to digging in big piles of dirt, to jumping in mile-high mountains of leaves?

What happened was people wanting too much stuff, like Freya’s family in BLACK COW. What happened was the stuff growing and building to such an insane level that both parents “have” to work to sustain it.

This vicious cycle is intimately depicted in BLACK COW, and as much as I already fervently believed in living life naturally, simply, making family count first, and being one with nature, this book made me savor it more, made me examine my life even closer, and made me grateful for the decisions we’ve made as a family.

Being a father myself, and having spent 28 years in corporate America, I related to James’ pain. The stress involved in nonsensical, impossible corporate goal setting, the day-to-day grind through traffic and with people who aren’t even close to being friends, really drove home and made me grateful I had personally escaped that life and now work for a small company where the work that gets done actually makes sense! See this insightful passage from James’ viewpoint:

You keep moving like a shark through the ocean so you didn’t die by standing still. But that was a mistake. People didn’t die by standing still. Reflection wasn’t deadly. They wouldn’t die from taking time away from the grind, even

if none of them turned on their phones, though there was Cameron texting, even as she was walking towards the plane. It was the motion that would kill them. What was deadly was

the running and gathering and shoving to get in front. He leaned towards Cameron: “Turn off the phone.”

When the story pivots after several devastating problems rise to a head, and James can take it no more, the family moves to a breathtakingly gorgeous farm in Tasmania, a long-time dream that Freya has harbored and tried to promote. James quits his job, Freya leaves her real estate sales position, and the kids are uprooted from their private school with the hope that they can run this cow farm, raise their own vegetables, create their own electricity, capture their own rain water, and manage it all with little or no experience.

The process is not easy, there is no magical solution or healing of all ills, but little by little, they pull together. The move to Tasmania was my favorite segment of BLACK COW, and I savored each page. I lusted after the land with Freya, ached to run my fingers over the black cows’ furry necks with James, felt the family’s pains when they weeded carrots, and reveled in the fresh air and gorgeous scenery. Although we live on three acres in the country and grow big gardens, our days of tending livestock are over. But now I want that farm. Badly.

Magdalena Ball writes with insightful realism, but there is beauty and passion and hope woven into the words, as well. See this segment where Freya’s vision is starting to come clear:

The sweater was a vibrant heathery pink, white and green, with bands of snowflakes, crosses and circles. It was more than beautiful. Freya couldn’t stop touching the wool, which was both soft and tough. It was fibrous, textured,

and yet still smooth. Jane and her partner were trying to make a living from their unique wool, and there was interest from the mainland. They only lived five kilometres in the opposite

direction to Hobart. Though Freya’s own knitting was still a far cry from perfect, somehow the beautiful yarn, Jane’s tips,

and those clicking needles were unknitting the muscles in her body and she felt herself relaxing into a kind of half-trance. She couldn’t quite hear Jane’s words as she smiled and kept on with her stitches. Something was becoming clear to her instead. Her life was like this sweater, and she could knit in

whatever colours, textures, and emotions she wanted. No matter what, she was the creator of her life, and she could make it glorious or dull, beautiful or flat. It was hers to create.

Her children and husband might be inspired or hindered by her, but they had their own lives to knit.

BLACK COW is an intelligent, deeply reflective story of a family who reaches its deepest lows, then transcends the expected norm to reconnect with the earth and each other in a joyful, satisfying adventure.

Highly recommended by Aaron Paul Lazar. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cover me, Kate

What is it about a luscious book cover that makes us just want to dive in the middle of the book? I have been over this a million times in my mind, and still have no answer other than photos and art call to our creative side and we just have to respond.

This is something that a lot of newer books still have to learn. The artwork is the same thing as "you never get a second chance to make a first impression"- you know ? I just can't make myself pick up a book if the art is so-so. I think artwork as a whole is undergoing a revamping these days and I am not sure it is a good thing. I mean, so many covers are repetitive. I mean come on, if you have seen one couple in a clench, in a state of half-dressedness, you have seen them all, right?

So how many covers of guns, and blood drops, and police tape can someone stand when looking for a mystery? Exactly. So, we should be mindful of the need to have covers that say something about the book inside. Something that oozes the story, and makes that reader go "ahhh" and snatch it off the shelf (real or electronic!) if for no other reason than to find out what it is all about.

I must say, the Mb4 gang has some of the best art for their books. But I am probably biased.

Who has other good art? Y'all can tell us, we want to hear what made you pick up that book!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The 50 Page Rule

Oh, great, more rules. I gave a talk to a writer's group a little while ago, and presented them with this idea of the 50 page rule. I could see the eyes roll, as they were still learning to work with rulles regarding tense, and period, and genre, and character development. The last thing they wanted were more rules. Not to worry. As Captain Barbosa explains in the first Pirates of the Carribean movie, the 50 page rule is "...more what you might consider guidelines, anyway." Here are my thoughts in a nutshell. I will admit to being an average reader, and an fairly avid reader of mysteries and the like. I will give any book I start, regardless of the author, 50 pages to capture my attention and make me care about what happens to the characters. I know, it sounds a bit harsh. but please bear in mind that I hiold myself to the same standard. I have started, and pitched in the trash, any number of ideas and stories that I couldn't get up to speed in the first fifty pages.

So here are some things that I look for in the first 50 pages.
1. Introduce the hero, and if appropriate, the antagonist. I like to know who we are dealing with from the start, and in my opinion 50 pages is a good time frame to at least set up the potential conflict between them.
2. Spread out the back story, and please keep it relevant. It is a good idea to develop character by giving a little history, glimpses of personal background and the like. but unless it has something to do with the developing story, I don't much care about the recess playground experiences of the characters. And to be honest, I don't need to read all about it in the first 50 pages unless the story covers a period of years and is an integral part of the narrative.
3. I personally look for the plot to develop quickly. I want to know what the story is all about, where the tension and conflict comes from, and what events are important in the lives of the characters that brought them to this point.
My point is pacing your story to get your readers swept away in it. The best writers in the genre are able to get you to care about the characters and what they are going through within the first fifty pages. From there, if you are at all like me, you get to hang on and truly enjoy the ride.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

For Writers: Blogging - What's the big deal?

aaron paul lazar, copyright, 2012

The Beginning

I'd just finished my sixth book in May of 2005, when I was approached by Bob Burdick to create a piece for his book-lovers' website. "Just tell us about your writer's life, how you manage to work and write at the same time. Tell us about the person you are, and how it all fits together."

I'd never really written much more than fiction, emails, and tech reports at work. And I wasn't sure how to begin. So, as I normally do, I just started writing.
I think back to that day as the unleashing of a whole different type of writing. This was personal, easy-to-read, and fun writing. Sort of like emailing one of my fans, or speaking one-on-one to a newbie writer who approached me for advice at a book signing.

At the time, I didn't think of it as blogging, per se. I didn't really know what a blog was back then. So I called the torrent of mini-essays that ensued "Seedlings" columns. I thought of them as "little seeds of ideas that sprouted in my brain while driving to work or before falling asleep. Not enough to flesh out into novels, by any means, but insistent enough to require capturing, all the same." 

A Blog by Any Other Name...

Since 2005, I've written over a hundred and fifty articles. These pieces range from 500 to 1500 words, and cover topics like writing tips and advice, a writer's life, book reviews, promotional tips, slices of life, etc. I keep a spreadsheet that lets me track where and when I've posted or guest-posted, and the list, in itself, has grown dramatically. 

Writers need to establish personal blogs to help promote their work, network with readers and writers, and to provide a home for their articles. But that's not really enough, these days. It's also good to get on a regularly published list of literary journals, group blogs, social media sites, etc. if you can. For example, my short pieces go up monthly at sites like the Future Mystery Anthology Magazine, and The Voice in the Dark Literary Journal.

I also post weekly here at Murderby4. Every Sunday, I write my piece then post it on my personal blog, too, and copy it over to one of my favorite social media sites, Gather.com. Often I'll have the energy to do the same at some of the .ning groups, like The Book Marketing Network, or Book Blogs. There are other sites I used to frequent such as EzineArticles.com, Helium.com, etc. Lately I've had a hard time keeping up with all their requirements about so many allowed links per article, etc., so I've sort of slowed down there. But they're all good, and I'm sure you can find your own assortment of places to post your blog pieces in addition to your personal writer's blog. The message here is to take advantage of the time you spend on these articles, and post them all over the place to get more coverage.

From each of the postings, I then tweet the article by simply clicking on the small Twitter icon at the end of each piece. I add key words to the canned pretweet, and often add "Plz RT", which signals my pals on Twitter to retweet the link to their followers. In order not to overwhelm my friends on facebook, I generally post a link to that site just once, linking to Gather, where many folks add their comments and their own observations about the topic of the day. 

I also keep a list of subjects I want to write about so I don't run out of ideas. Don't get me wrong - sometimes I come up empty-handed. It's hard to have a column ready every week, never mind while keeping up with the current WIP. I don't know how those newspaper columnists do it!

Why Blog? (I Just Wanna Write!)

Why do we do this? What's the benefit? And how can we justify taking time away from our "real" writing to do these short little blogs?

First of all, it's about connecting with people; connecting on a deep down, personal level. If you can relate to your readers, they might wander over to see what else you've written. Perhaps they'll check out your books. And maybe even buy some! More often than not, however, you'll find the benefit of blogging is a gateway to meeting wonderful people who often are in your boat. These writers may have their own blogs, may be looking for guest posts, just like you. Little by little, by sharing, networking, and helping each other, you can all gain more exposure to readers and blog followers by holding hands and posting each other's pieces. There's a lot of synergy in that model. And eventually, assuming your books are good, you'll start to grow a nice audience for your work.

Giving Back

Of course, you also want to offer something of value to your followers. In addition to hopefully entertaining them, giving them a bit of a laugh from time to time, and offering the benefit of your own observations and experience, you want to help them on their own journey. Be open to newbie writers who have never written a blog in their life. Offer to showcase their new book. Ask folks whose books you've read to guest blog for you. You'll be surprised at how many of the best selling authors actually respond and appreciate the option of reposting their blogs on your site. Always be willing to pay it forward, and offer freebies off and on like contests where folks can win a copy of your eBook(s) or print books. You can host other author's giveaways--that's always a treat for readers--but be sure you don't make the conditions for winning too hard. That never works. Usually I just ask someone to comment on the article to be eligible to win. Simple and effective!

The Rules of the Game

My version of blogging doesn't necessarily meet all the "rule of thumb" advice that I'd stumbled on over the past seven years. I've sometimes read that blogs should be "short and sweet", that you should blog every day, and that if you write something longer than 500 words, people lose interest. I'm not so sure about all that.

So, I don't follow those rules, and in the course of letting myself navigate through this mire with my own instincts, I've managed to create a pretty decent platform. The last time I googled my name, I got over 4,000 hits, mostly from the articles I've written. I've tried to help writers by sharing advice and tips, and have connected on a deep level with so many wonderful folks, not limited to writers or readers. It's been a good run, and I'm grateful for all the folks I've met through this process.

How to Get Started  

Don't let all this scare you if you haven't ever blogged or are just about to release your first novel. It's a growing and learning process that comes with time. 

Start with your own blog. Gather up your book cover images, a headshot if you like, and links you might like to add to the side bar. If you already have books to sell, sign up for Amazon Associates and get your product links. You can also create mini-slideshows where you feature your own book covers, and it's really easy to copy the code onto your own blog sidebar. 

Blogs are fairly easy and intuitive to create, using a platform like Blogger or WordPress. Usually it's all free, too. 

Once you have your template in place with photos and links, etc., then it's time to write something! There's no wrong topic with which to begin. Talk about yourself a little, if you wish. Pick a subject you're wondering about in the literary world. Or offer a chapter from your book(s). (tip - make sure you have your publisher's approval before you publish more than a blurb from your own work - check your book contract.) 

How to Get Followers

Some blogs go a long time without any official followers. And that's okay. You can check your stats to see how many hits you've had. Just keep writing, check out other blogs, and comment/follow them if they suit your interests. Then you can invite folks back to read your blog, and the whole process begins!

Final Caution

It's really easy to get so caught up in the promotion of your work that your free writing time for your WIP almost disappears. Try to get on a schedule. You need to balance this aspect of your marketing plan with the time to actually create more products to market! It's a real challenge. 

Hmm. Maybe my next blog will be about how to achieve that balance...

Best wishes and good luck to all, and remember to write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar

Friday, February 17, 2012

Inside Hitler's Silver Box, by Dr. Allen Malnak

Hi, folks.

I was recently introduced to Dr. Allen Malnak, author of HITLER'S SILVER BOX, by my good friend and former MB4 guest blogger, Mayra Calvani. After reading a bit about Dr. Malnak's history, I became fascinated by the story behind his book. I asked him to write this piece for us, which contains profound truths about the horror of Hitler's days.

Thank you, Dr. Malnak, for writing this article, and God bless the memory of your father and his family who died at Hitler's hands in one of the Nazi death camps.

Aaron Paul Lazar
Inside Hitler's Silver Box

copyright Dr. Allen Malnak, 2012                        

When my father came to America in 1906 at age 16, he had only one distant relative in this country. He left behind in Kovno, Lithuania a large family, including his parents, eight brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. They ranged in age from the elderly to babies.

Dad died of natural causes during the Second World War and immediately following the war, my late brother Lewis and I began to try to track down our father’s European family. I was just 16 when the war ended. We wrote letters to everyone we could think of and after about a year received a detailed reply from the International Red Cross. Nazi records as well as witness reports indicated that all members of dad’s family had been murdered either in or near Kovno or after transfer to a death camp. Every man, woman and child!

So, one entire side of my family was destroyed by the Nazis. Of course, I became interested in the Holocaust and began reading articles about it even during my high school and college years. During my internship at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital, I read a short book DOCTORS OF INFAMY, which covered many horrendous medical experiments performed on concentration camp prisoners by Nazi physicians. The book was so disturbing that after reading it, I tossed it into a garbage can. My next book on the subject was Elie Weisel’s NIGHT.  I then became occupied with my professional career as well as with my growing family for many years. When I reached the age of forty, I decided I owed it to my dead family members to engage in a real study of that terrible time. I then spent perhaps two or three years of my limited free time reading every book I could find on the Holocaust.

Years later, I retired from the practice and teaching of internal medicine, and my wife and I moved to Bonita Springs Florida. I noticed in the Naples Daily News an article describing a course in writing fiction being held at the Naples Philharmonic. The teacher was Hollis Alpert a well known novelist, biographer, short story editor as well as a movie critic.

I took classes with Hollis for a couple of years. He would give us assignments, often listing several subjects that we should use as the basis of a short story. He would critique each story and at the next weekly session read some of them to the class.

One topic I picked was titled “A Silver Box.” For some reason, I decided to write it about a concentration camp prisoner at the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp who was forced by a Nazi colonel to make a silver box which would be a present for Adolph Hitler.

After reading the story in class, Hollis suggested that this story could be expanded into a novel, and that started the process that eventually lead to HITLER’S SILVER BOX-A NOVEL.

While HITLER’S SILVER BOX is a work of fiction, it’s loosely based on the fact that during the Second World War, Nazi scientists worked up to the war’s end on a multitude of secret weapons on which Hitler pinned his hopes for a last ditch victory.

These weapon systems ranged from very long range rockets that could be fired from underground bases to alternative physics, robotic warriors, new energy sources, radical germ warfare and of course, nuclear weapons.

In the novel, the facts were modified to suggest that many objects which were later called UFOs were also developed by Nazi scientists in concealed locations, and various secret laboratories were set up around the world including in areas of both Arctic and Antarctic wastes where explorers had never trekked.

HITLER’S SILVER BOX further develops this to suggest that as Allied Armies closed in on Germany from east and west, it became apparent to his top generals that the war would be lost. With Hitler’s reluctant approval, a group of high ranking Nazi officials decided it would be prudent to plan for a Fourth Reich. This would require keeping these scientists funded and working for many years. All knowledge about them including their exact locations as well as their discoveries would have to be kept secret until the time was right.
Thus the vital importance of the sole document containing this information placed inside the silver box made specially for Hitler. The box was taken from the Nazis in 1945 and hidden in a forest in what is now the Czech Republic.

My initial inclination was to limit the book to Max Bloomberg, the silversmith’s experiences in the camp, but perhaps because of my hospital emergency room experiences decided to change the protagonist to Bruce, his nephew and the chief ER physician at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital. Max’s experience was presented in the book as Max’s journal, and the novel revolves around a search by Bruce and Miriam, an aggressive, attractive Israeli woman for the silver box and it’s contents. While Bruce has difficulty crossing over from a healer to a person who must use violence, fortunately for him, Miriam has both the knowledge as well as the ability to handle violent situations when necessary.
Writing the novel required considerable research. Having worked during my training and military service in a number of emergency rooms as well as having been medical director of a large ER department in Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital, I was familiar with that aspect of the story. I studied articles and books on life inTheresienstadt concentration camp and had to learn a great deal about silversmithing.

For many years my writing experience had been limited to the type of technical material needed for my medical profession. I soon learned that writing fiction required learning new techniques.

Dialogue and careful descriptions were difficult crafts to understand and learn, but the hardest part of writing the novel was describing the conditions that Max went through in the concentration camp. His use of the “particular” silver, the provenance of which nearly drove him mad, perhaps had a similar effect on me. Needless to say, while Theresienstadt was technically not a death camp, the victims were starved, beaten and subject to many diseases. Writing Max’s journal thus brought forth thoughts about the suffering my own family must have gone through.

The dramatic ER scenes were easier because they were based on my personal experiences. Since like Bruce in the novel, I also have claustrophobia in tunnels, writing that scene caused me some discomfort.

It’s been over 65 years since the Holocaust ended, but the long lasting effects will never fade. There are survivors and relatives of victims in many communities. I’m one of the relatives, since the members of my father’s entire Lithuanian family were murdered by the Nazis.

Now, most people who pick up a copy of HITLER’S SILVER BOX will do so because it’s a historical thriller with all the mystery, suspense, action, even romance that good thrillers are noted for.

But to the discerning reader, there’s a much deeper meaning that became evident to me recently in reading online comments in a local newspaper’s internet website. Two anonymous neo-Nazis constantly spewed their racist, anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying rants, bragging about their continued worship of Adolph Hitler and their admiration for the murderous Waffen SS soldiers.

Yes, despite what the world knows about the horrors of Nazi Germany, there are in innumerable communities of our great country, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members, all hoping to finish what Hitler couldn’t.

Actually, I had put the novel aside, only deciding to finish it after reading these nasty comments.

Perhaps HITLER’S SILVER BOX will throw a little more light on how devoted to evil these types are.


About the author:

Dr. Allen Malnak graduated from the University of Illinois College of Medicine and interned at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital. After completing a three year Internal Medicine Residency at the Research and Educational Hospitals of the University of Illinois and the Westside VA Hospital, he was Chief of Internal Medicine at the US Army Hospital, Fort Sill, OK.

Following military service, Dr. Malnak was a Clinical Investigator in Liver Disease at Mount Sinai Hospital of Chicago. He practiced in the Chicago area as a Board Certified Internist for about thirty-five years. During that time he was a Clinical Instructor at Chicago Medical School and an Associate Attending Physician at Cook County Hospital for eight years and following that a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Stritch School of Medicine of Loyola University for twenty-five years.

He was Medical Director of a number of organizations, including the Emergency Department of Mount Sinai Hospital and Principle Health Care of Illinois. Dr. Malnak also served as Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine, President of the Medical Staff, a member of the Board of Directors of Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Chicagoland.

His interest in the Holocaust was sparked by the fact that his father came to the USA from Lithuania at age 16, leaving behind a large family. All the men, women and children of that family were sent to a death camp by the Nazis and exterminated.

The retired internist is married and has three living children from his previous marriage. He and his wife, Patricia live in southwest Florida with their Whippet—Paige, and Parakeet— Kiwi.

Visit Dr. Allen Malnak’s Science and Health Blog.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Confession of a stricken writer

copyright Kim Smith
I think I have writer's block. My mind is like this picture of frozen snow-covered object-d'yard art.

It's true. I simply haven't done more than turn my laptop on in nearly two weeks.

Why? Well, I can only tell you the story as it has unfolded.

First, I told myself I was going to write when I got home from work. That to me is the most important part of writing, that telling yourself what you are going to do. If I don't set myself up mentally, I am really setting myself up to fail, but for some reason, this time, I didn't listen to me.

I got home and my hubby wanted to go out to eat, so away we went. When we got home, well, it was Monday! You know what that means! All the funniest sit-coms are on Monday nights, so I digressed. So badly in fact, that I never got back to it. Then well, I didn't sleep well Tuesday night, and fell asleep as soon as I got home Tuesday night. On Wednesday, I actually got the laptop to my lap, and turned on, but had a visitor and they kept my attention focused on them. By Thursday, we were involved in something family-related, and of course when the weekend came, it was a weekend filled with a workshop, house-cleaning, and grocery shopping.

So, what have I learned about writer's block?
1. Do not watch television. Do not even turn it on!
2. Get plenty of sleep!
3. Do not plan your writing when you are likely to be interrupted.
4. Delegate responsibilities at home in order to allow your writing time, or maybe if that is not possible, reschedule it or shorten it.

There is a happy ending to this story however, writing is our love, not our life. It's okay to slip up now and then.

Monday, February 13, 2012

It ain't easy writing romance, by S.W. Vaughn

Please help me welcome S.W. Vaughn back to Murderby4 today! We've certainly missed her, and were delighted when she agreed to write us a piece about how her latest book came to life. Welcome, Sonya!

Aaron Lazar
It ain't easy writing romance

copyright 2012, S.W. Vaughn

A long time ago, when I first started writing novels, I committed a nearly unforgivable sin. I decided to write romance, because it would be “easy.”

I was so very wrong.

The fact that I didn't know any romance writers at the time turned out to be a mixed blessing. On the positive side, if I'd voiced my horribly uninformed beliefs—that it couldn't be that hard writing a romance, all you did was take a guy and a girl and make them fall in love, I mean look at all those Harlequins out there—and there had been a romance writer in the vicinity, they might have committed justifiable homicide against me.

Then again, if I had been acquainted with one, they might have stopped me from writing not one, but two, unpublishable piles of crap that I thought were romance novels.

I gave up on writing romance when I realized how horrible the “novels” I'd written actually were, and turned instead to thrillers. I wrote a bunch of those, and then discovered urban fantasy and dove right in.

More than a dozen completed novels after my first two train-wreck attempts, I had an idea...for a romance novel.

I wasn't sure I should write it. I'd already irretrievably mangled things twice. But the story wouldn't leave me alone, so I gave in and plowed ahead. I struggled with the romantic elements, the balance between the plot and developing the central relationship, but I'd come a long way in terms of craft. When I finished it, I thought it was much better than those long-ago disasters—and so did an editor at Loose Id, where I ended up placing the book. Readers seemed to enjoy it too, since I went on to write a trilogy.

And then, I had a Big Romantic Idea...which would turn out to be one of the toughest writing challenges I'd ever faced. Up until that point, even my romance stories had been action-based plots with a side of romance. But with this new idea, the story WAS the romantic relationship. And I wasn't sure I could do it justice.

Once again, though, the story refused to let itself get dropped. I started writing it, and stopped when deadlines got in the way and I had to finish a different book. When I went back to the Big Romantic Idea and read what I'd written, I knew it just wasn't right. I had to discard just about everything except the characters' names and start over again.

There were more stops and starts along the way, and other “deadline” novels interrupted. The story wanted to be written, but I just couldn't give myself the justification to get it done. I might have been subconsciously stopping myself because I still worried that I wouldn't get it right. Then, an editor from a popular romance publisher I'd never worked with before contacted me. She'd read one of my Loose Id titles, enjoyed it, and wanted to know if I'd consider writing a book for them.

I sent her my partially completed Big Romantic Idea. She loved it, and I was offered a contract.

Now I had to finish the book.

I worried constantly while I went about writing the rest. There was too much romantic tension; there wasn't enough. This character is too overpowering; that character is too stupid to live. The story is too complicated; the story isn't complicated enough. I sweated all the small stuff, determined to actually write a love story that was worth reading.

It was harder than I ever imagined. But when I finally wrote The End, I was actually pleased with the finished product. I could count the number of times that had happened before on one hand, and still have five fingers left over.

And so, I'm very proud to announce that MY SOUL TO SAVE is now available from Ellora's Cave Blush line (the non-erotic one). It's a love story—both in the words on the pages, and the process it took to get them there.


He’s a demon…and she’s no angel.

Logan Frost, failed singer and recovering meth addict, is given the chance of a lifetime when a friend offers her the lead spot in his established rock band. But things get complicated when she starts hallucinating human-ish creatures with black eyes who disappear through walls. So when the gorgeous, mysterious Jaeryth falls into her life, claiming he can see the creatures too, she can’t help but feel a bond with him.

Jaeryth is a demon who’s long been obsessed with Logan—so much that he’s been ignoring his demonic duties. As punishment, he’s been made human and charged with corrupting Logan, who harbors a power she’s unaware of that could be used for great good…or evil. And if Jaeryth can’t corrupt her, he has to kill her.

If he doesn’t complete his mission, he’ll spend eternity being tortured in Hell. Unfortunately, he’s falling in love with the woman he’s supposed to destroy.


MY SOUL TO SAVE is available in ebook format from Ellora's Cave. You can find out more on my website at http://swvaughn.wordpress.com/

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book Review for PRIVATE LIES by Warren Adler

Hello, MB4'rs. 

Here's hoping your weekend has gone well. This year I'm giving myself the gift of working through a favorite author's books. While traveling last week, I was able to completely submerge myself in this wonderful novel by our esteemed colleague and bestselling writer, Mr. Warren Adler. Following is my review - enjoy!

Aaron Lazar

Title:  Private Lies
Author: Warren Adler
Publisher: Stonehouse Press (2004)
Genre: Suspense/Drama
Paperback: 344 pages
ISBN-10: 1931304653
ISBN-13: 978-1931304658
Price: Kindle eBook: $2.99; Paperback: $19.95
Publisher website address: http://www.warrenadler.com/aboutstonehouse.shtml

PRIVATE LIES is a mesmerizing read, starting with the powerful voice of Ken Kramer in the opening pages. I’m not going to provide a detailed plot summary, other than to say that this novel is a commanding glimpse into the minds of four very distinct characters. Mr. Adler rotates between these points of view, from a dispirited writer who has lost his dream and now settles for a job writing ads (Ken), to his long ago ballerina lover with whom he parted ways twenty years earlier and who he now runs into by a pure twist of fate (Carol), to his loving and enthusiastic wife, a virtual “earth mother,” who has organized his life and bore him two children (Maggie), to the final corner of this very odd rhombus, a self-engrossed, gourmand who’s always touting his latest “cause” and who can talk the best dinner partners under the table (Eliot).

One is immediately plunged into mystery and suspense when the story opens with a chance meeting between Ken, his wife Maggie, her new client Eliot, and his spouse, Carol. Ken knows she’s Carol—his past lover—yet she doesn’t acknowledge him. Not a glance, no eye contact, no conversation. Ken spends the whole evening wonder if this ethereal, swan-necked, divine creature is really the woman with whom he spent months of hot passion two decades ago. He’s positive it’s her; but why does she pretend not to know him?

Little by little, delicious secrets are unveiled. We discover Carol’s past, which I won’t divulge here, and finally get a peak into her mind.

I expected the story would stay in New York, set in apartments and coffee shops and restaurants, when suddenly the plot twists and we are airlifted to Africa!

The contrast between the scenes in the dark, dirty city to Africa are vibrantly divergent. Africa—land of the parching sun, torrential downpours, rare danger, and raw resplendent beauty—invades the minds of the quartet by unleashing inner urges, some not so pretty. The land influences and entices, invades sensible thoughts and tempts all four to go where they hadn’t dared before.

If it seems like I’m being cryptic here, I am. I don’t want to spoil the plot.

There are several twists in this story that made me stand up and applaud. Well done, Mr. Adler! It was these twists that grabbed my attention and made me love the book even more. As they should, secrets are unveiled and the plot runs wild with surprises coming in more frequent waves toward the end. Most satisfying.

I would recommend this book for adults only, particularly those who aren’t shy about reading delicately described sexual encounters. These tastefully drawn passages of great passion were evocative and sensual, adding to the texture of this finely woven literary tapestry. As in THE DAVID EMBRACE, Mr. Adler writes voluptuous and fiery passages when it comes to passion in the bedroom, or in the mind.

I’ve heard that PRIVATE LIES was up for a movie, and that was one of my first thoughts when I finished it. “What a great movie PRIVATE LIES would make!” I do hope that Hollywood grabs hold of this one and runs with it.

I highly recommend PRIVATE LIES for the thinking man or woman, and for those who enjoy diabolical, twisty plots and lush scenery.

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of three mystery series, Lazar enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.lazarbooks.com upcoming releases, highlighted below:

DOUBLE FORTÉ (FEB 2012, author’s preferred edition, 2012, eBook and print)    
UPSTAGED (JUNE, 2012 author’s preferred edition, 2012, eBook and print)  
MAZURKA (2009)


FOR KEEPS (MAY2012)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

ESSENTIALLY YOURS (MARCH 2012)                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Giveaway - NO MARK UPON HER by Deborah Crombie

Hi, folks!

This week Harper Collins is gearing up for the release of NO MARK UPON HER by Deborah Crombie, and we at MB4 are proud to be hosting a giveaway today for one of our Murderby4 fans!

Here's your chance to win a copy of the book - all you have to do is comment below to be eligible.

Deborah Crombie is a New York Times Notable author and has been nominated for and won many awards including the New York Times Book of the Year. As if that wasn't enough, her novel Dreaming of the Bones, was chosen by the Independent Mystery Booksellers of America as one of the 100 Best Crime Novels of the Century. Now that's something most writers can only dream about!

One Murderby4 grand-prize winner will receive: A copy of No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie!

Here's a synopsis to whet your appetite for the book:

When a K9 search-and-rescue team discovers a woman's body tangled up with debris in the river, Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid finds himself heading an investigation fraught with complications. The victim, Rebecca Meredith, was a talented but difficult woman with many admirers—and just as many enemies. An Olympic contender on the verge of a controversial comeback, she was also a high-ranking detective with the Met—a fact that raises a host of political and ethical issues in an already sensitive case.

To further complicate the situation, a separate investigation, led by Detective Inspector Gemma James, Kincaid's wife, soon reveals a disturbing—and possibly related—series of crimes, widening the field of suspects. But when someone tries to kill the search-and-rescue team member who found Rebecca's body, the case becomes even more complex and dangerous, involving powerful interests with tentacles that reach deep into the heart of the Met itself.

Surrounded by enemies with friendly faces, pressured to find answers quickly while protecting the Yard at all costs, his career and reputation on the line, Kincaid must race to catch the killer before more innocent lives are lost—including his own.

Crombie's novels are published in North America, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Romania, Greece, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and numerous other countries. The latest novel in the series, No Mark Upon Her, was published in August, 2011 by Pan Macmillan in the UK, and will be released in February, 2012 by William Morrow in the US. 

Although she travels to England several times a year, Crombie now lives in McKinney, Texas, an historic town north of Dallas, sharing a 1905 house with her husband, Rick Wilson, two German shepherds (Hallie and Neela), and three cats. She is currently working on her fifteenth Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novel, as yet untitled.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Conversation started, jump right in.

Used to be everyone wanted to be a writer because it carried with it a certain cache, a certain mystique, and it was just dang good info to start conversations at a party. Today, everyone not only wants to be a writer, but they want to be published, and heavens above, make MONEY at it. Well, what a novel idea! Wish I had known about that before I set the course and was already six books in the hole, because my idea was to find homes for my babies, and if I got some pocket change along the way, well, that was just dandy. I never thought I would and I certainly didn't plan my award party in advance.

To date, I haven't disappointed myself with too high expectations and I am certainly not crowing over the pittance I have made. It wasn't for the money, or fame. I thought it was more important to tell a good story, write an interesting book, and share them. I just wanted readers. And those, I think I managed to acquire.

So what do writers today want, expect, and need from the powers that be in charge of making their digital files into a tangible piece of something?

Fame! Fortune! and to get on an afternoon talk show (cannot say Oprah anymore as she is no longer in business, but you get the idea).


And what are they turning out in the land of books? Well, I have read two lately that made me reassess everything fiction. I really think the non-fic peeps are pulling ahead right here at the finish line for me. I am reading a book on ways to be happy, and one that talks all about parents who text. Good info, and funny as all get out.

Wonder if either of those authors have made it on a tv show yet?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hurt The Hero, by Pat Bertram

copyright 2012, Pat Bertram

I like my characters and don’t enjoy hurting them, so my novels tend to focus on unraveling the mystery of the situation, because one thing I do understand is that at the heart of all books is a discovery. In a mystery, the discovery is the killer. In a romance, the discovery is love. In a character driven novel, the discovery is the nature of the character himself.

But the truth is, you need to hurt your hero. If the hero doesn’t hurt, why should we care? And if he doesn’t hurt, how would we ever discover his emotional core, what it is that he really cares about? When we discover what the character cares about, we care about him, and want to read to see how he reacts to the hurt and to find out what he is going to do to make it stop.

True character is revealed in the choices a person makes under pressure or when he is hurting or both. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation will be and the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature. Pressure is necessary. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little.

In Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, David Gerrold wrote: “You need to ask yourself these questions in every situation. Asking these questions brings each scene to life: Why is the moment important? Where is the pain? Why does it hurt? And most important — what will make it worse?”

In life, experiences often become meaningful with reflection and time. In retrospect, a horrendous experience takes on an aura of excitement or even happiness because we remember being fully alive. In art, experiences are meaningful now, at the moment they are happening on the screen or in the novel. We can see instantly that the character is hurting, but we can also feel the excitement of the moment, the adrenaline rush. It all happens at once, the reflection and the experience, which explains why movies and books sometimes seem more real than life itself. Without the character hurting, however, the experience becomes muted, less real.

So: the name of the game is hurt the hero. I guess I’ll just have to learn to like it.



Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado.

When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book -- character and story driven novels that can't easily be slotted into a genre -- she decided to write her own.

Light Bringer is Bertram's fourth novel. Light Bringer, Daughter Am IMore Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, are all available from Second Wind Publishing.

Bertram's publisher says: "I was told by some other small publishers with whom I had done research that I was going to get mountains of unacceptable crap for every worthy thing I received. So when I got Pat's manuscript for A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which was like the first submission to Second Wind, I thought, 'OMG, is this possible?!' I knew in the first 20 pages that she was the real thing."

Visit Pat Bertram at: Facebook, Gather, Good ReadsSquidoo, Twitter