Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Straight Talk

I wrote the following short as a challenge to create a story without a line of narration and to write dialogue in a way the reader would see the action. Does it work? You tell me.

© Marta Stephens 2017 all rights reserved

“I said I’m sorry.”

“You’re always sorry, but that’s as far as it goes. Never seems to stop you from being irresponsible and self-centered, does it? All you had to do was watch the Wilson for half an hour. I was at the market for half an hour. In that time, you’ve managed to wreck my clean kitchen, knock over my fern, and lose my dog. Some days I just can’t stand to be around you.”

“I mean it. I feel just awful. Slow down! I’m out of breath.”

“You should be ashamed. He’s deaf and out here all alone. For all you know, he’s probably lost by now. He wouldn’t know a car horn from a bullfrog. What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking of getting a glass of water when the dog plowed through the kitchen, slipped on your waxed floor, slid into your blasted fern and dumped dirt all over the room. He got scared. Who knew he could push the door open too? You act as if I let him out on purpose.”

“You might as well have. You were supposed to fix the latch on that storm door days ago. He’s a smart dog. Smarter than you, I might add.”

“Should've asked the dog to fix the latch. Look, I said I was sorry. Obviously that’s not good enough for you. Would you please slow down?”

“No. It’s not. Not any more. Words are cheap, especially as often as you pull out the apology card and think it will make everything better. That’s the story of your life. All you ever had to do was show mother those weepy brown eyes and she’d melt and let you off the hook. Every single time she let you off with a warning.”

“Oh, for the love of Mike. For goodness sake, Agnes, the least you could do is warn me when you’re going to stop. You nearly knocked my glasses off my face.”

“You always got away with murder. And there I was, left behind to pick up the pieces. Usually the literal pieces of whatever you broke after I got the spanking you deserved. Well, Jonathan, it won’t work this time. Understand?”

“I got my share of spankings. There you go again. Please, Agnes, this pace is killing me. My legs, would you please—”

“Not enough spankings as far as I’m concerned.”

“That’s not fair and you know it.”

“What’s not fair is that you’re a grown man and I still can’t count on you for anything. This time, there’s a real consequence to your actions and he’s out here roaming the streets with no idea how to get back home."

“Your feathers, as usual, are ruffled for no apparent reason."

"You’re not getting out of this one with a simple apology. Do you hear me?”

"Quit pointing that finger at me. It's liable to go off.”

“Where could he be? He’s never been gone this long before.”

“It’s only been an hour. He’s a hound for crying out loud. He’ll smell his way home in no time.”

“I don’t see him anywhere. I’ll never forgive you if anything happens to him—never. And where do you think you’re going?”

“I can see you’re not going to stop with the insults until Wilson comes home. I’m going to look for him in the other direction.”

“And well you should.”

“He's a smart dog. Probably knew you were on your way home--probably why he ran.”

"What did you say?"

"I said he's a smart dog. Probably knows his way home and I'll buy you a new plant."

“Hmf. Wipe that idiotic smirk off your face.”

“Alright, I’m going. It’s the least I can do, for his sake.”

“Jonathan, wait. Where’s your coat and hat? Do I have to remind you of everything? Your hair is blowing all over the place. You’ll catch your death of cold and guess who will have to nurse you back to health?”

“I’m quite capable of deciding for myself if I need a coat or my hat. Thank you. Wilson! Here Wilson. Come on boy.”

“Stop it. You’re such a twit. He can’t hear you.”

“Right, deaf. I forgot ... lucky dog.”

“You wouldn’t forget if you’d pay more attention to things around you.”

“I pay attention. And what do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m coming with you. No point in both you and the dog getting lost.”

“I can’t walk as fast as you. Would you please slow down? Can’t believe you’re so angry.”

“Darn right I’m angry. This rates up there with the time I planned your 35th birthday party. You do remember that one, don’t you?”

“Oh for crying out loud. That was over thirty years ago. How could I forget? You bring it up every chance you get. Hm. It’s colder out here than I thought. Should have brought a sweater.”

“What did you say?”

“I said my legs aren't feeling better. Wilson! Here boy.”

“Planned it for weeks—spent a fortune.”

“It cost you fifty dollars. I know—you told me that a million times too. Can’t believe you’re still holding it against me. My legs, Agnes, please ... slow down.”

“I cooked all day, had a houseful of your worthless friends waiting on you for hours, and you never bothered to show up.”

“The thought of turning 35 was depressing enough without being reminded of it. I didn’t need you to rub my nose in it. You never got that. Instead, you insisted it would make me feel better. So what did you do? You plowed right through with your plans in spite of my protests.”

“You would have had fun if you’d been there.”

“Tell you what, 35 looks pretty good now.”

“And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was the weekend trip to Charleston. Remember that little fiasco?”

“Here we go again. You’re not going to rehash that old thing, are you?”

“And why shouldn’t I? I suggested the trip to perk you up. Made all the plans, took a day off work, and even gave you the money for the plane tickets. All you had to do was buy two two-way tickets for us. But no. You couldn’t even do that much for me—your only sister.”

“My 35th birthday wasn’t the greatest, okay? I just wanted a few days alone—to think.”

“You could have told me before I made my plans. Warned me instead of letting me find out at the airport that you didn’t buy my ticket. And then you had the nerve, the very nerve to ask me to pick you up at the airport on your return. Why are you panting?”

“I asked ... asked you to ... slow down.”

“Stupid me. Should have left you stranded. My one chance in life to get rid of you and I didn’t take it. I can’t believe I actually picked you up. I’m such a softy.”

“Softy my asparagus. The truth of the matter is, if old Jonathan here wasn’t around, you wouldn’t have anyone to listen to your ranting. Just how many hours a day do you spend trying to figure out ways to stir the pot? Because that’s what you do, you know—inflate things out of proportion. Then if it’s broken, you can fix it and make yourself feel ever so much better by virtue of your boundless kindness.”

“You’re such a sarcastic fool. What a nasty little person you are.”

“I may be, but you know I’m right. Do you see him anywhere?”

“No. It’s getting too dark. Darn it, I swear I’m done with you.”

“Agnes, just what makes you think you’re so saintly anyway? When did you ever really think about me or anyone else for that matter?”

“I’ve always thought about you.”

“Only when there was something in it for you. Listen to yourself. It’s all about how much you’ve done and how unappreciated you feel. Who asked you to do anything for me? No one, that’s who. Never asked you for a damned thing.”

“Well of all the nerve. Quit cursing. I’m not listening to another word.”

"Yeah, you are. From the time you were able to open your mouth and spew out an opinionated syllable, you’ve been a committee of one. A bossy know-it-all. And when things didn’t go your way, it was automatically someone else’s fault. Sister, that is one twisted sense of kindness you have there. Hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s not polite to do things for other people and then throw it up in their faces over and over again?”

“I’ve never done that!”

“You just did! See, it’s so much a part of you; you don’t even know you’re doing it.”

“When have I ever been selfish? You’d be out on the street right now if it wasn’t for me.”

"My moving in with you was your idea, not mine. Shouldn’t have listened to you—should never have listened to you.”

“Wish you hadn’t.”

“But if I wasn’t around, you couldn’t go to church and tell your periwinkle hair lady friends how kind you are to me.”

“I really hate you, Jonathan. You know that?"

"You can't. It's a sin."

"As far as I’m concerned, you can pack up your… Oh! There he is! Here boy! Come on Wilson! Oh, good boy—I was so worried about you. There, there, where have you been?”

“Have you got him?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Good. I’m freezing my buns out here.”

“Well, don’t just stand there stomping your feet. Hand me the leash. I left all the groceries on the counter because of you. The frozen vegetables are probably thawed by now.”

“So. What’s for dinner, Aggie?”

“Thought I’d make some salmon steaks with white rice and peas.”

“I don’t like fish.”

“Of course you do.”

“No I don’t.”

“Yes, Jonathon, you do.”

“No, Agnes ... dear. Never have, never will.”

“Well, you’ll like these—paid a pretty penny for them. Lock the door behind you this time, will you? And do try to fix the latch on the storm door tomorrow.”

The End 
Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series and Rhonie Lude Mysteries. Stephens, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, lived in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s but has called Indiana home since the age of four. For more information about the author and her works, visit

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Loss Leader

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Earnest Hemingway
© Marta Stephens, 2017 all rights reserved

Years ago, my publisher couldn’t understand why I was nervous about the release of the second book in my Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT. I’d worked very hard on it and was confident it was the best I had written up to that point in time, still, I was nervous.  The best way I could explain how I felt to her was by comparing my first novel to a loss leader. You know, the items store managers use to lure or lead customers into their store and sell at a price below its market cost to stimulate other sales of more profitable goods or services. Let’s say a store manager displays 2-liter pop bottles just inside the door for the ridiculous price of $.50 each. He or she will certainly lose money on each bottle sold but will make up the loss from all the other items customers will buy. The old, “Well, while I’m here, I might as well buy…” The strategy is, if customers liked the pop, they won't think twice about paying full price for it next time they shopped.

Maybe not the perfect comparison, but in many ways my first published novel, SILENCED CRY, was a loss leader. At the core of things, everything about my first novel was new to me. I’d never been through an editorial or publishing process. I didn’t know the first thing about book promotion or networking. In fact, the entire process was a completely new  experience.  Although I wouldn’t say I was clueless, I certainly didn’t foresee or anticipate any risks that might come along.  I was a virtual known so if something went terribly wrong—if the book turned out to be a complete failure, only I and a handful of people would know about it. Even fewer would remember it weeks later.

The two most critical things this first novel would determine was whether my writing was marketable and would it create a demand for my work. As it turned out, SILENCED CRY received great reviews and was a successful debut novel. However, by the time my second novel, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, was ready to go to print, I had certainly become a bit savvier with good reason to worry. This one had to be better. While the main character, Sam Harper, is focused on tracking down a serial killer, all the other characters are consumed by the knowledge of a curse they believe is at the heart of the murders. The plot is a mix of suspense with a bit of the supernatural woven through it for good measure.  Would the traditional mystery lover love it? To my relief, the novel was very well received and was the recipient of the 2009 bronze IPPY. In this case, my “loss leader” had created a demand for book two.

Now, fast forward to the present time. Ironically, I’m reviewing THE DEVIL CAN WAIT and plan to re-release it in a matter of weeks. I’m just as curious now as I was then about reader reaction. It’s been nearly ten years since the book’s original release and I’m not only reaching out to my current readership but hope to also appeal to a new audience. That will always be the greatest challenge.

I pray I have several more novels left in me yet know that with each new release I will bleed and the same questions will roll around in my head. Questions that only time (and readers) will answer.


Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series and SHROUD OF LIES, a Rhonie Lude Mystery. Stephens, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, lived in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s but has called Indiana home since the age of four. For more information about the author and her works, visit

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Happy October from Aaron Lazar

Yesterday morning dawned wet, dark, and windy. But by the time I started my walk--after writing chapter 28 in the new LeGarde Mystery--the sun was shining and a cool, stiff breeze blew across the fields. I walked 3.5 miles and just as I got home, it clouded up again and threatened rain. Boy, was I lucky. Not that a little rain would have melted me, or anything.  ;o)

We picked the last of our tomatoes and made a fresh tomato soup the other day -- boy is it good. So easy to make, just cook down the fresh tomatoes, strain out the skin and seeds, add a little ketchup for tang, a bit of S&P, and you've got your own better-than-Campbells tomato soup!

It's been crazy warm here this month up in the Finger Lakes region. Have you seen that in your area? We usually are in the 60s or maybe 70s in October, but we've had many days in the 80s. I'm sure we'll see some more normal temps soon--the one thing we can count on up here as far as the weather is concerned is the variability!

For the Birds, the award-winning book 1 in Tall Pines Mysteries, is on sale for 99 cents through this month. (see below) I hope you can also find some nice deals below - I'm offering some specials from other authors as a gift to you. Let me know if you like any of them!

Happy reading,

Aaron Paul Lazar

I thought I'd share some fun stuff with you today.
  • Author Appearances - Stop by if you're in the area!
  • What I'm Reading - Vegas Lies by Andrew Cunningham
  • Book Sale - For the Birds
  • How's the New Gus LeGarde Mystery Coming?

Author Appearances:
  • Deer Run Winery, Geneseo, NY: Reading Between the Wines, Sunday Oct. 15th, 2-5.   
  • Dansville Public Library, Dansville, NY: An Author's Evening. Tuesday, October 17th, 6:30 PM.

What I'm Reading

If you like mystery/thrillers, please check out Andrew Cunningham's new eBook or paperback.

Vegas Lies
a "Lies" novel, book 3
by Andrew Cunningham


Five teenage girls from a small town in Oregon disappear without a trace. Were they kidnapped, or have the five friends perpetrated a massive hoax?

Nine hundred miles away in Las Vegas, a woman with a dark secret vanishes on her way to meet friends for dinner.

Those friends are Del Honeycutt and bestselling mystery author Sabrina Spencer, in Las Vegas for a book convention. As Del and Sabrina investigate their friend’s disappearance, they are convinced that she has been abducted, and they begin to uncover the secrets that might have triggered her abduction, secrets that now put Del and Sabrina’s lives in jeopardy.

When clues indicate that the five missing girls might also be in Las Vegas, the situation takes a new turn, directly into the unthinkable.

Once again, Del and Sabrina find themselves head over heels in trouble and marked for death, and they only have a few hours to solve the case or their friend and the five young girls will be gone forever.

Be sure to check out my review on Amazon. I LOVED this book!

End Date: 10-31-2017

For the Birds (Tall Pines Mysteries Book 1)

By Aaron Paul Lazar

Usual Price: 3.99 Sale: .99

Treasure. Secrets. A 50-year-old unsolved bank heist. See Marcella run for her life in For the Birds, a sensual, mystical, rollercoaster ride through the Adirondack Mountains. "...a lively story of deceit, obsession, and redemption" G. Scholter

So, how's the new LeGarde Mystery Coming?

The twelfth LeGarde Mystery is at 43,000 words now and still rolling forward. It's my first "series crossover" mystery that brings two series together. Gus runs into Jack and Scout from The Seadog, a Paines Creek Beach love story, as well as Libby and Finn from The Seacrest. You probably know how much I love Paines Creek Beach in Brewster, Mass. So you'll understand why I took Gus and Camille there to "vacation." So far, this has been the worst and most challenging vacation ever!

In spite of having many new family problems over the past few weeks, plus also having my gums operated on (Ack! I have stitches in my MOUTH!), I'm still writing in spite of it. Yay!

Happy reading, and don't forget to take pleasure in the little things.

Aaron Paul Lazar