Friday, February 29, 2008

Writers Helping Writers: On the Value of Literary Friendships by Magdalena Ball

Please join Murder by 4 by welcoming Maggie Ball, Editor-in-Chief for The Compulsive Reader, where you'll find reviews of books by some of the hottest writers working today, exclusive author interviews, literary news, book giveaways, a free newsletter, and criticism.

Magdalena Ball's short stories, editorials, poetry, reviews and articles have appeared in a wide number of printed anthologies and journals, and have won local and international awards for poetry and fiction. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from CCNY (New York), an MBA from Charles Sturt University (Wagga), and has studied literature on a postgraduate level at Oxford University (UK). She also works as a manuscript assessor for Manuscripts Online, is a member of the BookConnector Advisory Board, an Evaluative Reader for Catchfire Press, and Information Manager for Orica. She is the author of a novel Sleep Before Evening, a non-fiction book, The Art of Assessment, and a poetry chapbook Quark Soup. Magdalena lives in on a rural property in New South Wales with her husband and three beautiful children.

Writers Helping Writers: On the Value of Literary Friendships

As the Editor-in-Chief for the website The Compulsive Reader, I get about a hundred review requests a week. Of these, maybe one will be accepted. Not because ninety nine of those aren’t good books, but because we simply don’t have the people power to read and review everything out there. And there is so much out there. How do we filter? For me, I try to filter on quality. If a book strikes me as being, in some way, extraordinary, I’ll try to take it on, even if I’m already overloaded (and I am; I am). All writers are my ‘fellow writers’. We are all plying our trade, and most of us doing it in conjunction with a day job, families, and a ton of other commitments. I want to help everyone. But I can’t. Every now and then, someone I “bump into” online will strike a personal chord with me. We’ll ‘bond’ in a virtual sense, and keep up the conversation, continuing to support each other’s work, and communicate our triumphs and losses. I think you could call it friendship, though perhaps not quite in the conventional sense. When the time comes when one of my friends needs a review, back cover quote, some advice, or help with promotion, I’ll be there. Why? Isn’t this a kind of literary favouritism? Does it really help? I believe it does. Here’s why.

A healthy concern for those who have similar talents, ethics or who are members of our family/social circle is part of what it means to be a human. We can’t help everyone. But we can, and should, help those that we care about. It’s the bedrock of our social existence. Some might call it nepotism, especially if family is involved (and I have a rather artistic family – we all support one another), but I agree with author Adam Bellow (In Praise of Nepotism, Doubleday, 2003) that nepotism, when combined with meritocratic principles, can be a positive force.
According to UNESCO, there were just under half a million books published in English in 2005. Of these books, a large number of titles won’t sell more than 100 copies. There are many more books on the market than book buyers. Most book buyers will purchase books based on familiar names. Emerging authors need all the help they can get to simply get their titles noticed amongst the hype and names that dwarf them, but few of us can afford the publicity powerhouse that big names get as part of their publishing packages. Supporting one another is one way to help redress the already negatively skewed balance.

As professional writers, we treat what we review professionally, regardless of whether it was written by someone we know or a stranger. So when I review a book by a friend, I review it in the same objective (as objective as any book review can be – we always bring in our tastes, biases, and perspectives) way that I would review any book. I don’t always give my friends glowing reviews. It isn’t easy, but I have occasionally had to refuse a review, or have had to publish a review which is negative. That happens. Friendship doesn’t mean I compromise my integrity, otherwise my review or support would have no value. What it does mean is that I’m willing to give your book some priority in my crowded stack.

Writing can be a solitary occupation, but promoting a book isn’t. Being in a position to help someone whose work is superb is inherently gratifying. We are all disciples at the altar of the well written word, and promoting excellence wherever you find it is a privilege. That said, the production of my first novel, Sleep Before Evening, found me in a position where lots of people were needed to help me get the word out. I got a tremendous amount of support, and in this dog-eat-dog world where money and celebrity often rules over quality, that support helped me as much emotionally as it did in terms of my book’s success.

Writing novels is a mug’s game, at least in the beginning. It can be immensely gratifying, but it is also painful, hard work. Helping one another is also part of the game. Without the support and community of like-minded authors, there’s simply no way to get one’s foot in that tiny crack of the promotional door. The more we help others, the more we help ourselves. Social networking is the hottest buzz around for writers, and the kinds of networks we develop, with people whose work we admire, helps define who we are. So why not offer your writerly support to someone today. Offer to do a review, host their guest blog, go out and buy the book of someone whose writing you admire, or just mention their work in your blog. It’s the kind of good deed that will come back to you.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Eight Steps to the Writing Life

Fifteen years of writing and listening to people say they want to be a writer has brought me to develop a list of guidelines to help them bring their desire to fruition. There are eight points of consideration and if one were to administer them to their writing life, they may see publication come their way.

1. Pick your primary goal for your writing.
It’s not enough to say, “I want to be a writer” or “I want to be published”. You must decide exactly what you want to write and when you want to do it. Write down a list of goals and when you hope to achieve them. Keep it posted by your computer and refer to it every day.

2. Use your imagination to dream big.
Wishful thinking will get you nowhere if you do not believe you can achieve it, you must be consumed by the flames of desire to accomplish your goals. Be a go-getter not a no-hitter.

3. Expect to suffer from your choices.
We all have a price to pay for success. If you intend to be a writer, you will sacrifice some of your time for writing. If you intend to be a published writer, you will sacrifice the luxury of laziness for deadlines.

4. Focus on the prize.
Keep your mind free of the clutter of negative thinking. If fear, worry, or other blocking thoughts creep in and muddy the waters of your writing goals, develop a plan of action. Fight against mental blocking and negative thoughts by meditating on your potential and how much you want this for your life.

5. Be willing to fail—in order to win.
Just about every person alive who has been published has failed initially. That didn’t deter them however and it shouldn’t you. Rejection is a facet of the trade that we all have to endure. Consider it the fire that will meld you into fine gold. Persistence and perseverance will pay off in the end.

6. Believe in the power of positives.
My mother always told me that the most powerful force on earth was the power of suggestion. I believe she had that right. If we are constantly bombarded with suggestions from well-meaning friends who write or want to write, we may end writing before it has really lived. You have to believe in your own voice, in your particular story, and keep a positive outlook.

7. Don’t tear yourself down.
If you don’t believe in yourself, you will never succeed. Success is measured sometimes by how strongly we believe in our power. Don’t think of yourself as a bad writer, a doomed writer, or even a weak writer. Labels like that destroy our confidence and send us limping to the notebook instead of running and winning the race.

8. Quit making excuses.
Writing is hard work, and it is oftentimes very lonely. No one can do this for us. Have you ever said, “If only I had more time…” or “If only I had more education…”. These sorts of stalling tactics will only keep you out of your writing chair. Examine the reasons for such negativisms and overcome them. If you let excuses rule your writing, your writing will be excused.

A wonderful illustration of writing and working toward writing goals would be:

George Moore, the novelist, was asked by a young man if he recommended that the young man become a novelist. Moore said no.
The young man asked why, since Moore had become one himself. Moore said, “Because I didn’t have to ask.”

A Mickey Spillane Quote

Everyone has a favorite quote. I have several, but I'm particularly fond of this one.

"Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book." ~ Mickey Spillane

What's yours?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Perfect Crime

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Ever wonder what it’d be like to hatch a deliciously evil plot? A devious plan so utterly out of character that you’d remain above suspicion? I bet you haven’t. Admit it, you’ve had those days when the little, insignificant annoyances build up. Two days ago you could shoo them away like a pesky fly. Today, they’re that speck of dust in your eye that grinds into your flesh from the other side – it jabs and nudges you over the edge. A vicious scheme starts to spin and weaves ugly thoughts through your head. Every vivid detail of the crime from beginning to end takes form. Suddenly a grin slips across your lips. The target, your victim, is well in sight still you wait. It could take weeks maybe months before the perfect moment arrives; that split second when your prey least expects your strike. At that instant, a swift, clean move eliminates the offender and you, the killer, leave the scene unnoticed.

Except, murders are rarely planned, they’re seldom clean, and the killer always leaves something behind. A strand of hair, a scab or careless fingerprint, a trace of saliva on a cigarette butt or on the edge of a drinking glass is all it takes. One slip and you’re done.

Regardless of how random the crime might seem, there is usually a motive. It could be as immediate as an impulsive response to an argument or as obscured as a childhood experience. Once I decide who committed the crime in SILENCED CRY, my challenge as an author was to understand the killer’s motive -- his madness. The hardest part, of course, was making the killer invisible until the last possible moment.

My writing has been influenced as much by film as it has been by literature. One of my favorite past times, in fact, is to watch a suspense or thriller and try to guess who perpetrated the crime. I’m usually good at fingering the right person, but I hate to be right. There’s nothing better than to not see it coming. Sitting on the edge of my seat with one expectation and getting blown away by the truth is half the fun. Two movies that immediately come to mind are, HIGH CRIMES, and PRESUMED INNOCENT. Both films successfully divert the viewer’s attention from the killer. In both cases, the charges against the defendant are dismissed, and just when I thought the cases were solved and nothing else could possibly happen -- it did.

In chapter one of my novel, a shot is fired and the first of several victims is killed. In chapter 10, Homicide is called to investigate a cold case. Workers find the skeletal remains of an infant entombed in a wall of an apartment building marked for demolition. Two murders, no connection, no motive and still no suspect. The killer’s only advantage is time. The Baby Doe murder was committed years before DNA was admissible in a court of law. It was an era when all a killer had to do was to lurk in the shadows, watch his back for a while, and if need be, pay someone off to keep quiet.

The investigation heats up when Homicide Detective Sam Harper discovers a connection between the suspects in the Baby Doe case and his late partner’s murder. Evidence thrusts him ahead to unveil a host of crimes and a multitude of suspects. This modern day detective and his team of forensic scientists know all they need is that single hair, a sample of semen, or a trace of saliva to pin-point the guilty.

With the criminals safely behind bars, the cases appear to be solved until Harper’s attention is drawn to an otherwise ordinary event in the killer’s life. It’s an unlikely slip but to the trained eye it is as damning as a bloody fingerprint. A key turns, the lock flips open, and the truth flashes across Harper’s mind with the force of rippling white lightning. He discovers the trigger, what began the throng of crimes, each intended to conceal another. Yes, the killer committed the perfect crime and for nearly two decades his house of cards stood erect until a seasoned eye and DNA fingerprinting revealed far more than the killer’s identity.

The SILENCED CRY book cover is eligible for the 2007 Cover of the Year award. Voting ends April 15. Every voter will be entered in a drawing for the winning title.

For excerpt and reviews go to

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why I Don't Love Writing

There is an unspoken assumption that writers love writing – otherwise, they would not bother traversing the medieval gauntlet that is querying and publishing. This is true, and beneficial, for many writers. A love of writing can allow one to soldier on despite the enormous setbacks that can and do occur.

I have recently discovered that I don’t love writing.

Of course, there was the initial lust I once felt for every word I committed to paper – a misguided lust at best. I won’t go into detail. In the evolution of relationships, the new and magical luster eventually fades into a deep and abiding love (or a painful divorce, whose wounds time heals).

The evolution of writing – at least for me – undergoes a different metamorphosis.

Shocking as this may be, I have found it difficult to formulate in words what writing means to me. Analogies are fine tools for explanation, and I have finally conceived of one that nearly defines my relation to writing.

It is part of my genetic makeup. My eyes are hazel, my ears are asymmetrically placed on my head, I can curl my tongue, and I write. Therefore, I’m unable to love or hate writing. It simply is, like the ridges that form on my fingernails as a result of an iron deficit brought about through a lack of concern for my nutritional intake, and a strict writer’s diet of coffee and food that does not require advanced preparation.

Writing is a tool with which I function in life. My eyes provide me with the necessary visual relations to ensure that I do not walk into walls. My asymmetrical ears collect sounds. My writing allows my brain to process the vast amounts of raw information taken in by my other senses, and transform that rawness into something with structure and substance. It is the method by which I relate to the world when my other senses fail me, as they often do in the darkness.

Through writing, I am human.

These are pretty words. One may be inclined to believe that I am a poseur; a faux ‘artiste’; a rank novice with stars in my eyes who still believes the trite notion associated with Isaac Asimov’s famous quote: I write for the same reason I breathe – because without it, I would die. In reading this post, one cannot possibly know my soul, know what I have been through in coming to this realization. Pretty words they are . . . and yet my words are all that I have. I do not postulate this theory idly. Asimov’s words were true for him, and they are true for me – no matter how much I may resent this fact on occasion.

In next week’s post, I will explore the logical conclusion that my numerous attempts to withdraw from writing have been comparable to gouging out an eye. Visual representations may be provided if so requested in the comments.


Today’s Zen words: It is always darkest before the dawn, so if you are going to steal your neighbor’s newspaper, that is the time to do it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Interview with author John DeDakis by Marta Stephens

“Sometimes, in order to find purpose for the future, you need to unravel the mystery of the past.”

Today it’s my pleasure to introduce John DeDakis, author of the mystery/suspense novel FAST TRACK published by ArcheBooks Publishing. John is the Senior Editor for CNN and writer for the Emmy-Award winning “The Situation Room,” anchored by Wolf Blitzer.

In addition to book signings and readings, John frequently speaks on the topic "From Journalist to Novelist: (Or How I Learned to Stop Telling the Truth and Start Making it Up)." He is a lecturer at American University, Washington, DC where he taught a journalism class of student interns during the summer of 2007.

John, a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Cynthia, a choral conductor. They have three grown children.

MS: John, thank you for allowing me to interview you for MURDER BY 4. I’m fascinated by your background. Your career in news broadcasting spans four decades starting when you were as a student reporter in 1969 for a campus radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You are a former White House Correspondent, and have been with CNN since 1988. When did the fiction writing bug strike?

JD: I always knew I wanted to write, even when I was a kid, but it started with nonfiction. I toyed around with some short stories in grade school, but the bug for writing fiction didn't really bite until about 1994 when I was deep into my journalism career. I'd already been a reporter and White House Correspondent, but then I became an editor which is, by comparison, tedious and not particularly creative. That's when I got serious about writing fiction.

MS: Your career as a journalist/reporter/editor placed you in the center of the events and people who have shaped our nation. Have you ever been moved by any one event or individual to consider writing a political or spy thriller? Why or why not?

JD: Yes. Stay tuned.

MS: Now I’m totally curious, but I’ll move on to my next question. How would you say your personal experiences have influenced the direction of your writing?

JD: They're inseparable. My sister's suicide and the car/train collision I witnessed when I was nine became the impetus for my mystery/suspense novel FAST TRACK. But imagination plays into the process in a big way, too.

MS: What would you say are your biggest challenges as an author and how do you deal with them?

JD: There are several challenges. The first and foremost is to balance writing with the responsibilities of family. That's less an issue now because our kids are grown, but there was a time early in the process when my wife referred to my book as my "mistress." Once the book was published, the challenge became one of balancing the time between writing and marketing. If you want your book to be a success, you MUST be willing to do all you can to let people know about it. But it's extremely time-consuming, yet rewarding. I'm not a born salesman, yet I've found, to my surprise, that I like that side of things.

MS: What would you regard as your most successful method(s) of marketing your book?

JD: By far, e-mail is most effective for me, followed close behind by bookmarks. Before my novel came out, I began amassing a rolodex of contacts which I’ve been adding to ever since. Whenever a person I meet buys my book, I ask for their email, then I follow up with a "glad-we-met" note. I must have about 2,000 email addresses now -- a built-in base to contact when book two comes out.

Bookmarks are effective, too. For example, if I’m in an elevator with someone I think might be interested, I hand them a bookmark and give them the following ten-second spiel: "This is your next book. It’s mystery/suspense about a young woman trying to figure out what to do with her life. The publisher’s web site is right there."

I point to the link at the bottom of the bookmark.

"My publisher has posted a free sample for you to read." Just enough to get a reader hooked. I also highly recommend the book "Guerrilla Marketing for Writers" by Levinson, Frishman & Larsen (Writers Digest Books).

MS: What does a typical day in the life of John DeDakis look like? When do you find time to write?

JD: I'm up early, usually around 6 a.m. I write in my journal, then I check e-mail and write responses. I read the paper, exercise, shower, and have a bowl of cereal. If I'm working on a writing project, I tackle it in the hour or two I have before I have to be at the CNN Washington bureau at 11 a.m. At work in "The Situation Room," the first part of the day is spent getting up to speed on what's happening in the world, so I'm reading a LOT. As we get closer to air time, the pace picks up as the writers file their scripts for Wolf Blitzer to read. We only have four writers for three hours of airtime (4 p.m. -7 p.m. ET Monday-Friday). I share the editing load with one other person. He edits the 4 p.m. hour; I do the 5 p.m. and we share the 6 p.m. The writing and editing go on through all three hours and the pace is frenetic. But then, at 7 p.m., it's all over. After work, I'll either go out to dinner with a friend, or head home to hang out with my wife and/or work on a writing project. The days are always full and never boring.

MS: Your debut novel, FAST TRACK, was first released by ArcheBooks Publishing in hardcover in August 2005; the paperback was released in 2007. First, I’d like to share the blurb with our readers:

FAST TRACK (ArcheBooks) is the story of how sometimes, in order to find purpose for the future, it's necessary to unravel the mystery of the past. Impulsive 25-year-old Lark Chadwick, frustrated because she can't decide what to do with her life, learns she's the sole survivor of a car/train collision that killed her parents when she was an infant. Why was she never told? The only person with the answer -- the aunt who raised her -- has just died, an apparent suicide. With the help of Lionel Stone, an irascible retired New York Times editor, Lark digs into her past. But, as most reporters learn very quickly, someone's lying. Who is it? And why is someone trying to kill her?

MS: I’m immediately drawn to know more about your character Lark Chadwick. What prompted you to write this intriguing novel?

JD: I was doing a writing exercise about a personal experience. As I wrote about the car/train collision I witnessed as a kid, I remembered a radio news story I'd heard about a similar crash in which an infant survived. Since I'd never heard the full story of what happened in the crash I'd witnessed, I began to wonder what it might be like if that infant grew up and began digging into the circumstances surrounding the accident she survived.

MS: Obviously, your protagonist is a woman. What challenges have you faced while writing a woman’s voice?

JD: Not as many as you might expect. I find that emotions are universal -- they're not unique to either gender. In addition, I find that women are more interesting to me than men, primarily because women express themselves in more nuanced and entertaining ways. It helps that I work in a newsroom filled with twenty-something women who tell me their stories. Several of them read early drafts of the manuscript and were able to give me valuable feedback that helped to make my female "voice" more authentic. I write about this in greater depth in an article I wrote on entitled "Confessions of a Cross-Gender Writer."

MS: How much of yourself do you think seeps into your character?

JD: Quite a bit. She's probably what I would be like if I were a woman.

MS: I noticed on your website that you are working on a screenplay adaptation of FAST TRACK. When did you begin that project and how far has it progressed?

JD: I wrote the screen play about 10 years ago. It's gone through two drafts, but they're both too "talky." It needs more work, but for now, the project is on the back burner -- unless Hollywood shows some interest in adapting the book to the big screen.

MS: What’s next on your plate?

JD: I'm putting the finishing touches on my second novel, BLUFF, a sequel to FAST TRACK. It's based on my recent hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. After that, I'm hoping my CNN colleague Carol Costello and I can follow through on our plan to do the audio book version of FAST TRACK. We just need to find some time.

MS: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

JD: NEVER GIVE UP! It took 10 years, 14 major revisions, and 39 agent queries before FAST TRACK found a home. If you give up, it guarantees that your book won't be published -- unless you go the self-published route (which isn't for me).

MS: I absolutely agree with you about not giving up. John, please feel free to share any additional information about yourself, your writing and/or your journey with our readers.

JD: Your readers are to be congratulated for enduring my turgid answers. If they want to know more, I suggest going my web site:, my writing site at or my publisher's site: And, oh yes, for the latest news, check out

John thank you again for allowing us to spend some time getting to know you. Best wishes on your continued success with FAST TRACK and your upcoming novel, BLUFF.

FAST TRACK is available in hardcover (2005) and in paperback (2007).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Virtual Book Tour for Tremolo: cry of the loon

Thinking of running a virtual book tour?

It's a wonderful idea, but don't let anyone tell you it's easy.

I'm still breathing hard, trying to keep up with the tour for Tremolo: cry of the loon, recently released by Twilight Times Books.

Shelley Glodowski, senior reviewer for Midwest Book Review, says of Tremolo: "It's easy to see that Aaron Paul Lazar loves to write, as his style is lilting and beautiful. He weaves childhood memories of the lakes of Maine into a stylized whodunit that is original and breathtaking."

And Bob Williams, of, wrote, "Tremolo is a monument to the enduring values of love, integrity, and bravery and has all the signs of persistent endurance."

I love those quotes. They make me feel validated as a writer, especially when my fickle ego starts to undermine my confidence. But you know, good reviews aren't all you need to sell books. You need constant exposure, and a virtual book tour is a good way to exponentially increase your internet presence .

The tour sure has taken a toll on my "real" writing time. I don't think I've written more than three chapters in my new book (#13) in over a month. That's very odd for me, as I usually like to write a chapter a day.

And answering all those interview questions and keeping up with the comments on everyone's blogs can be time consuming. But that's okay. Like I said before, "nobody ever bought a book they haven't heard about." So targeted promotion is a necessary part of this business, and it's often necessary tofunnel our energies into another branch of the field.

One little problem is that I received so much interest from folks to host the tour that it stretched from December through March. Phew. But it's been a blast! And now, as we round the corner into the last few days of February, I'm gearing up for the March group, which promises to be very exciting!

Here's a list of the tour stops to date - I've included links for those of you who might want to swing by and say hi to the hosts, or to comment on the reviews/interviews.

Lesia Valentine hosted the debut tour stop with a great review and interview. Here's a quote: "This book is so cool I could eat it like ice cream. I felt like rolling down a hill in a big refrigerator box when I read it, and you will too, because Tremolo by Aaron Paul Lazar, is a nostalgic and adventurous romp through summer camp." Isn't she a great writer? I'm going to invite her to do a guest blog for us.

Debbie G. - on Deb wrote a lyrical review and asked me some interesting questions about my deepest fears. Feel free to add your own questions if you'd like to comment. Joining Gather is free, and you can be assured to avoid any spam like comments or mail by clicking on the "guarded viewing" option. Here's an excerpt from her review: "Aaron Lazar's first line inTremolo, immediately transported me from my couch potato perch into danger, mystery and adventure. Young Gus, caretaker and protector of his grandfather's boat desperately pulls on the oars in an attempt to reach the safety of the shore before the thick fog descends. You hear the wooden paddles creak, and the lake slosh, and feel the fear as the three young friends hear a motorboat bear down on them. In that initial scene the reader loses real time and enters Gus Legarde's childhood, never to be disappointed."

Jane Corn - on Gather, blogspot, Amazon, Digg, and Associated Content. Jane asked some unique questions and posted a great review of Tremolo here. "This novel set off powerful waves of memories and pure nostalgia in me. I remembered those days when the Beatles were popular and Beatlemania was in full swing, when John Kennedy and Martin Luther King were well-known and children spent summers outside, not in front of video games."

Mayra Calvani - on the Dark Phantom Review, Blog Critics, and Gather. Mayra posted a wonderful series of questions and also gave me a chance to list a synopsis of all twelve books. Some are available now ( and some are in the works. But it was fun to list them all together in one spot. ;o)

Elizabeth Evans ("Bob" or "Bobbi" for short) on here and again, here.

It's amazing how unleashing others' creativity can open up a whole new way to review a book. Bob's cats and dog helped out with this one, which was hilarious! I loved getting to know Ophelia, Sophie, and Tuck even better than before. They are a great crew and keep their Mistress on her toes!

Flit (Lauralee B) from Gather, posted this lovely review, right smack dab in the middle of her insane college schedule. I don't know how she does it, but she wrote a great review. "Tremolo, like the other books I've read by Aaron Lazar, is a fast paced, easy, and enjoyable read. The characters are well-developed and very real, and consistently portrayed throughout the novels. And most importantly, of course, they are characters that it is easy to care about. You'll want to keep turning the pages because you will want to know what happens to them next."

April H conducted a long interview in two segments on

First half of interview

Second half of interview

She also posted excerpts from Tremolo: cry of the loon, all week as teasers to the reading community.

Beverly McClure asked some interesting interview questions in this post on Gather, too. Interview You can find out all about my "favorite" stuff in this one - including what time period I'd like to live in, if given the choice. LOL!

Beryl Singleton Bissell will be posting a new interview this week - and she asked some of the most stirring questions of all.

One final tip for those of you planning a tour - it's okay to plagiarize yourself and repeat similar answers on repeat interview questions! You don't have to beat yourself up to be clever each time, trying to top your own answers to "Why do you write?" or "When did you start writing?" I love answering the questions no matter what, especially when I get to talk about my characters in the LeGarde or Moore Mystery series. ;o)

Next stops on the tour include posts by Marci Baun (Wild Child Publishing), our own Murder by 4 hosts, Marta Stephens and Kim Smith, and the lovely Patry Francis, author of The Liar's Diary.

So - if you're not sick to death of reading all about me and my characters at this point, pick a few stops along the way to visit. And remember - write like the wind!

- Aaron Paul Lazar

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tapping into Something Beyond Ourselves

... from the all knowing sense to an awareness so deep the skin crawls...

Today's guest, Julie Ann Shapiro, is a freelance writer, novelist, short story author and Pushcart Nominee with over seventy published stories.

Her first novel, Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries is published by Synergebooks

What many people may not know about me is that I’m intuitive and often pick up on people’s energy. This sixth sense can be helpful as a writer and at times pretty eerie or creepy depending on your perspective.

I think this intuitiveness has probably always existed on some level for me, but being consciously aware of it is another thing. One of my earliest memories is being in elementary school and knowing my friend would be moving far away. She was really bummed and I was too, but something about knowing it in advance just took her thunder away. I think I kind of filed that information away and told myself “people don’t want to know the ahead of the moment stuff” with the very kid like directive… “don’t be a weirdo.”

Years later as a teenager I wrote poetry with wisdom and philosophy that spoke like a classic in kind of an embarrassing way, considering I wanted to try and be “normal”. Of course, that never happened, not with a friend who believed she was reincarnated as Ann Bolyn and that her feet had been eaten by a shark in another life. Together we’d theorize about past lives. Her mother even hypnotized me and I found a couple of those former selves. In one I did something with humanity, and held a scroll…Maybe I was a writer back then. I saw myself as an architect in another with huge calluses and the last one that made me cry showed a beautiful feudal estate and being forced into marrying someone and saying goodbye to my true love.

At the time my friend and her mother believed that I tapped into my past lives and that it explained everything. I assumed the images came from reading or a movie. Yet, the thought that I was someone else in another time tickled the imagination… and invited me into the world of stories. Since then people often say I’m an old soul. I just smile…maybe I am…or maybe I’m writing a story or living the story that I wrote before. Wink…wink…nod…nod…

My intuitiveness and self-awareness of this “other knowledge” became much stronger as I got into fiction writing. I found my destiny and believe it found me. It emerged in a big way with my novels. One of the whackier validations was when a photographer like the guy in my book, Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries contacted me. He embodied an artistic vision like the character. The novel itself is fictional, but I know I tapped into his energy on some level. One of my clairvoyant friends said that,” it confirmed that what I'm doing is real.”

The past five years this “other sense” has been getting stronger. I know it’s there on a conscious level now, but don't always understand it. It’s part of the mystery and one of life’s sweet surprises. Sometimes it takes me a while to get the messages. It’s all the more reason to write.

A few months ago when we experienced the bad fires in San Diego, I saw an image of an Indian stirring smoke embers. I knew right then the fires would be put out soon. A month later I had another vision, while meditating. I saw umbrellas falling from the sky, which I thought was really strange, until it rained the next day.

Now all these incidents may sound pleasant and a gift, that’s what I think too. But sometimes it can get very creepy. Over the weekend I was at a Writers Conference and had severe chills as a woman read a horrific story about sexual abuse. I felt like she not only wrote about something bad, but that tapped into something evil. Yet, I kind of felt a message...that I needed to do something good. I was at first more concerned with not being so darned scared by what she read and the freaky shaking going on in my body.

Often when someone tells me something with an epiphany or deep insight I get the chills for a second or two, but nothing that’s ever lasted ten minutes. I literally had to move away from her table. Friends in the room got concerned about me and tried to make me laugh. I described what was going on and then another woman read a very beautiful historical fiction story that took me into another world. It was the best writing I'd heard in years and the kind of story that made me want to become a writer years ago. I ended up nominating her for recognition at the writers’ conference. When they announced the awards at a banquet the next day I just knew she’d win and she did. That felt incredibly good. It seemed to counter balance the awful negative energy that I felt emanating from that other woman. I could feel a good presence around this gifted writer. I hugged her as she thanked me and it felt like I was hugging all that is good in the world. It was the best feeling. As for the other writer... the next day she approached me and thanked me for validating that what she wrote about was real. I could feel still this awful presence around was like she wasn't all there. The rest of the weekend went peaceful and was actually fun and back to quote or unquote normal.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Our First Guest Blog - The Painting, by Mayra Calvani

Today we're featuring our first guest blogger - prolific author, Mayra Calvani. Please join Murder by 4 by welcoming her to our forum.

Puerto Rican author Mayra Calvani has been writing since the age of twelve. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of Bridgeport, CT. Her stories, articles, and book reviews have appeared in many online and print publications in the States, England and Puerto Rico. She is co-editor of "Voice in the Dark" ezine, where she writes a monthly column. After having lived in several countries, she is now settled in Brussels, Belgium with her husband, two children, and a variety of pets.

Mayra loves writing in many genres--children's, young adult, humor/satire, mystery, dark romantic fantasy, dark fiction, horror, as well as nonfiction. She is an active member of Broad Universe, Sisters in Crime and The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

The Painting, by Marya Calvani

I was sitting in front of the fire with The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes on my lap. It had been a rough semester, without let up, and my only escape from the constant pressure was my crime and mystery collection. All day, I’d looked forward to reading the stories in the book. This particular book was a limited, leather-bound edition which I had purchased at the famous 221b Baker Street—now the official Sherlock Holmes Museum—on a short visit to London a couple of weeks ago. The illustrations were the original ones from The Strand Magazine, and were so engaging I could look at them for hours. I had also bought a little bust of Holmes; this one stood proudly on top of the mantelpiece.

It rained heavily outside and the wind blew like the endless howling of a wolf. I still had not gotten used to the Belgian weather. I sneezed for three times in a row and cursed whoever was up there in that idealized cave they call heaven. This cold was not getting any better. I could picture the savage battle going on inside my body. I was obviously far behind on the battle field, my little cells running away like cowards. I had to eat better and stop drinking so much. At least I didn’t smoke or drink coffee.

I focused my watery eyes on the page and another sneeze came out like an explosion. Then the sweetest sensation made me float in the air and settle down again. I thought I had reached salvation. I put the book down and stared at a small cockroach crawling up the wall. I wished I could defy gravity like that. The intruder disappeared behind a bad painting of a clown. I hated clowns, but the painting came with the apartment. The first day I moved in I tried to take it off, but the damn thing was completely glued to the wall. It was a clown like any other clown. That’s why I despised it so much. It had a broad smile on its face and sad looking eyes. But if you looked closely you could see that it wasn’t really smiling and that its tightly shut lips were the embodiment of solemnity.

“Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day,” it mocked me.

Big deal. I glared at it. If the clown thought it was going to have some power over me, it had another thought coming. Valentine’s Day was another capitalist invention to steal money from the ignorant masses. Hearts and roses everywhere. Sickening. From the apartment above mine came the irritating sound of high heels clicking on tile floor. Oh no. Not now. This cold was unbearable enough as it was. I certainly didn’t need the help of my noisy upstairs neighbour to turn my headache from bad to splitting. Everything the woman did was noisy. She constantly fought and argued with her husband, and her hobby seemed to be moving furniture from room to room, which by themselves were pretty normal activities, but she had a strong preference to do these after midnight. Flushing the toilet at three o’clock in the morning seemed to be another of her favourite pastimes. Maybe in another building this would not have been a problem, but here the walls were made of paper. I could hear everything—even her piss in the middle of the night. What a way to wake up, with a sensation of drowning.

The clicking continued for about ten minutes. I finally put the book down. What on earth was she doing? Walking up and down her corridor for the sole purpose of driving me mad? Maybe she was trying to hypnotize me with the monotone clicking. In an absurd way it seemed to be working. I could hardly keep my eyes open.


I sighed. I was so tired and drowsy from the medication I fell asleep with the book on my lap.


The sound of loud voices woke me.

I glanced at my watch, trying to fight disorientation. It was almost midnight. I had slept for sixteen minutes. My body felt as though it had been clobbered while I slept.

A major fight was going on upstairs. I recognized the baritone voice of the husband. Some time during the past sixteen minutes he had come back home. He kept shouting and she lashing back in a whining voice. To make matters worse, they were Italian and were using their native tongue to “communicate.” She began sobbing, which seemed to send the husband into an even greater fury.To appease my murderous thoughts, I rose and staggered into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of orange juice. After finishing a glass, I calmly fetched the mop from the small kitchen closet. Then, like a madman—hair messy and oily, the shadow of a one-week old beard covering my face, wrinkled bathrobe stained with juice—I began to hit the ceiling in a frenzy.

Finally I stopped.

I looked up to the ceiling, which was marred with dents.


Feeling much better, I set the mop against the wall and went back to sit by the fire, the only place at the moment which seemed warm enough for my feet. I turned the armchair a little to be closer to the burning logs, which kept crackling and sputtering.I, a sensible, practical person, tried to consider the situation logically. Ever since I had moved in, two months ago (I was an exchange student from the University of Bridgeport), I’d had to endure the continuous noise from my upstairs neighbours. I had complained to the building manager twice, to no avail. I had even walked upstairs and talked to the lady—a suntanned woman with coppery hair, buttery teeth and insane-looking green eyes. Her eyes reminded me of a one of those marsupial night creatures which live in constant terror of being eaten. Maybe her look had to do with her husband. In any case, we had been unable to communicate. She spoke no English. She did ask, using sign language, if I spoke French or Dutch. I shook my head. In the end I tried to get my message across in Spanish, but there was no way getting through to her, so I came back downstairs. Since that day all I’d been able to do was hit the ceiling when it got too unbearable. I didn’t want to move out, either. The rent was okay for a sophomore literature student from abroad and I had fallen in love with the fireplace, which was the perfect place to read mysteries.

I got the terrible sensation of wanting to sneeze, but nothing came out. I dozed off for a little while longer, but not before scowling at the painting of the clown, which, once again, appeared to be mocking me. I turned back to the fire. From the corner of my eye I caught movement. I glanced back at the painting, but everything looked normal.

At about two in the morning I managed to pull myself from the armchair and stagger to my bedroom.Not bothering to pull the covers over me, I collapsed face-down on the hard European (must have been imported from Russia) mattress and shut my eyes.

Not much later something made me stir… the faint yet distinct sound of moaning. Apparently they had decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day early. Their bedroom was above mine. I endured the whole thing, complete with the crescendos and grand symphonic finale.

Moments later the not-to-distant sound of piss came from the toilet upstairs. Flushing.

The piping system had been built in a way as to give the impression of a Tsunami each time the toilet was flushed.

Too weak to open my eyes, I cursed inaudibly, my head still plastered to the sweaty pillow.

The next day, when I saw I was not better, I realized I had the flu. I had missed the last two days of school and it looked as though I’d have to miss the rest of the week. After a skimpy breakfast of toast and juice, and two tablespoons of cold medication, I went to the living room to prepare a new fire.

As I crouched and began to arrange the logs, I heard the whisper… Happy Valentine’s Day.

I stopped moving, startled.

The sound had come from my apartment, not from upstairs. In fact, the whisper had come from the same room. I glanced about the room, my eyes finally settling on the clown. In some bizarre way it seemed to reach deep into my soul, somehow absorbing the essence of who I was and reflecting it back at me. I averted my eyes.

When the fire was ready I sat in the armchair and extended my cold feet close to the flames. I reached for the leather-bound book on the little table beside me and opened the page at the bookmark.
After reading a few lines I put the book down. It was very quiet and I wondered what my upstairs neighbour was up to. Her silence somehow made me restless. Maybe she had gone out. I tried to concentrate on “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” but found the effort exhausting.

Since the cold medication wasn’t having any effect on my symptoms, at noon I took a double dose. Holmes used to take cocaine and even heroine; that was much worse. Then I took a glass of water with me into the living room and stood in front of the painting. I took a sip and held the glass in front of my eyes and saw the image of the clown through it. The image was nothing but a mass of hazy colors forming something indefinite.

Then I heard it, the exquisite clicking of stiletto heels on tiles. I looked to the ceiling. I sighed. I wanted this to happen. My whole being longed for it. My attitude could be compared to victims of kidnappers who in some deranged way grow attached to their tormentors.Almost involuntarily, my eyes returned to the clown. I thought it had called my name. It was smiling as usual and looking at me. No matter where I was in the room, it would always be looking at me. A sharp pain in my temples blinded me for a moment. I felt dizzy and had to hold the back of the armchair for support. Yes. I was right. It had called my name and now it was talking to me. Its mouth was moving and it had no teeth. Inside its red mouth there was only a black empty space. I wondered how it could talk and still smile like that.

Slowly I went out of the apartment and crossed the empty, windowless hall towards the stairs which led to other floors. Once on the upstairs hall I was happy to see that it also was empty. My heart thudding, I knocked on my neighbour’s door and waited.

A moment later the door opened and I gazed with fixed fascination at the color of her hair—only a consummate professional could achieve such an unnatural hue.

She appeared to recognize me, displayed her buttery teeth, and began talking in another language—probably Italian, though it might as well have been ancient Sumerian. She moved her hands in all directions as she talked, and gestured me to come inside. Not uttering a word, I obeyed. She continued her enigmatic speech. The vibrations of her voice entered my ear as if they were coming from another dimension. My body felt as hot as a kitten’s belly, and my head as if it had been implanted with electric wires. I just wanted her dead.I fixed my eyes on her neck and silently closed the door behind me (I grasped the knob with my robe, not to leave fingerprints; I’m not an imbecile) as she bent over to pick up a cleaning rag from the floor.

In spite of my drowsiness, my hands felt incredibly strong.

Later that evening I sat by the fire and wrote what I had done, a fictional confession of sorts. I filled seven pages of longhand, doctor-like scribbles only I could decipher.
I glanced at the painting. Earlier I had covered it with a sheet. The clown could stare at me no more.

The door bell rang and, papers clutched to my chest, I got up and went to answer it.

Though I had been expecting them, my heart skipped when I saw the two Belgian policemen standing outside my door.

After I made it clear I spoke only English and Spanish, they quickly introduced themselves in English and stated the reason for their visit. My upstairs neighbour had been strangled and they wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything.

I adopted a surprised expression and shook my head.

“Did you know her?”

“I saw her just once. I’ve been living here for only two months,” I said. “Though I could often hear her. She was always fighting with her husband—I assume it’s her husband. That’s the reason I once met her. I went upstairs to ask them to keep their voices down. It was late and he was shouting and she was screaming. In fact, I almost called the police that night. They had a big fight last night, too. It sounded pretty bad. If you ask me, I think the husband was abusing her.”

One of the policemen wrote furiously on a note pad.

The other policeman glanced at the papers I held against my chest.

“I’m studying for an exam,” I said.

The policeman nodded. He looked like a toy policeman. Both of them did.

“Ironic, huh? To be murdered on Valentine’s Day. That husband of hers, he must be a poet.”

After several more questions and answers, they apologized for the inconvenience and said goodbye.

Holding my confession close to my heart, I closed the door and went back to sit by the fire.

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” I murmured. One by one, I fed the pages to the flames. Even Holmes would have been proud.


©2008. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

Mayra Calvani
Children's Books:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Writing is like a Carousel Ride

Writing a story, whether short or long is like a carousel ride.
copyright Kim Smith

The exciting calliope calls to you to be a part of the magic. It tugs and pulls until you throw caution to the wind and get on board. Sometimes you have to pay to get your moment on the ride, sometimes with fortune smiling, the ride is free.

Some people approach the carousel with trepidation, as it can be tricky to get onto the platform if you don’t watch your step. Some people never try; content to sit on the outside of the experience and watch. But for those who do, the world looks a bit different.

Inside the carousel are painted animals. Horses, rabbits, cats or pigs, each one is different from the rest, with intricate factors about its design and history. Some are dark, some are light, but all are interesting and beautiful. If you are new to carousels you may find staying on the animals is difficult as the seat is hard, uncomfortable, and sometimes not working.

Around you people climb atop the animals. They hold onto them with clutching fingers and laugh or cry, as the ride begins to move. The upward movement is exciting, and the rider goes with it all the way, and then back down again until the end.

The riders talk to you with accents and diction each unlike the last. The trick is to develop a friendship with them and be interested in their story because if you don’t, they soon will be gone.
You listen to the riders and notice every so often, one of them will stretch out and attempt to grab something zipping by. It’s a brass ring, and if they catch it, at the end of the ride, they receive a prize.

What does this have to do with writing you ask?

The ride’s motion is a successful story idea. Usually coming around on a regular schedule, some story ideas are long and some of them short. Oftentimes it’s the shorter ones writers have the most trouble with. Story ideas can be tricky, and many approach the process with trepidation, but eventually they get to the place where they can see their way.

Inside the story, the writer sees a plot, a painted animal. Each is special, beautiful and different, comedic or dramatic, with possibilities to be explored. Sometimes finding the plot is hard, just like the animal’s seat, and can be frustratingly difficult to stay with when they don’t work.

The carousel riders are the characters. They breathe and move, speak and tell stories of their lives. They want to tell a writer their stories and do so in differing voices, with accents and diction, which make them unique.

Finally, the brass ring would be publication. For some, it remains outside their reach, an illusion as it zips just past their fingertips. For others, it’s a prize, hard-fought and won, to take along down life’s path until they discover another carousel to ride.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Research: How Much is Enough?
© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Several years ago, while I sat in a college writing class, the professor instructed us to “write what you know.” What student/writer hasn’t heard those dreaded words? I remember thinking if that were the case, I would never write.

I have what most would consider a normal life; married, raised two great children, went to college, have hobbies, and have been gainfully employed all my adult life. But this could be anyone’s life. If I stuck to the “rule,” I’d have nothing to write about -- nothing anyone would want to read, that is. However, I do have a passion for a good suspenseful mystery, the page-turner that yanks you to the edge of your seat, grabs you by the throat, and leaves you breathlessly begging for more. “Write what you know.” The words popped into my head again as I typed the opening paragraph of SILENCED CRY.

The reality is, most fiction writers I know have never been involved in the type of situations they force their characters into (murder, theft, espionage, smuggling, kidnappings, imprisonment, etc.). So where does a writer start? Research. Simply put, he or she owes it to his or her readers to create a story that is absolutely believable.

The question is how much research is needed? The answer: As much as it takes to make the story plausible. The problem is that research is a twosided sword. Not enough and the story will lack the essential truths needed to make it real. Too much and the story will sag with excess information.

A while back I read a book that held me until the last three chapters. After that, the bottom fell out of the plot when the suspended disbelief disintegrated into a convenient ending. The story wasn’t a police procedural, but a police investigation was implied. Yet critical evidence at the scene was overlooked which indicated to me the author had not thoroughly researched crime scene procedurals. Not that an entire chapter should have been dedicated to the investigation performed at the scene, but the oversight was glaring. A crucial piece of evidence that any crime scene investigator would have immediately bagged from a murder scene was never mentioned by the police. The omission felt like a ploy to fool the reader into thinking the guilty was innocent. It worked, but the tactic backfired because it also left this reader knowing the author hadn’t done his homework and rushed the ending. The real crime was that he told the reader who was guilty without giving the reader an opportunity to see the evidence mound and draw his or her own conclusions. Isn’t that what mysteries are all about? A gradual build up of suspense, peppered with clues and followed by a WOW ending?

This is an example where a bit more research, the addition of a few words could have changed the complexity of the entire novel and would have made me love the book.

Research doesn’t mean the writer must force every bit of information he or she discovers into the story. That’s what is commonly referred to as “information dump.” Only a portion of the research, that which gives a scene meaning, should be used. This means that an author may read pages of text from several sources to ensure the accuracy of a single sentence to give the work a flavor of authenticity -- make it believable.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

When Readers Die

I realized recently that it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen anyone reading a book in public. Being a writer, this concerns me – and so, since I am well versed in several methods of research, I set out to discover the reason behind this lack of book consumption.

Based on my survey of ten McDonalds employees (where I work undercover as part of my efforts to thwart the black market kangaroo meat trade), I discovered the following:

-One in 10 people read books for pleasure
-Five in 10 people read only the newspaper, because it is available free at work
-Three in 10 people do not read
-One in 10 people wish me to stop asking stupid questions and clean the fryers

After I extrapolated the results of this survey, I determined that according to the current world birth and death rate, for every reader that dies, 0.003 readers are born. This is an unacceptable replacement rate. Therefore, I concluded that my survey was flawed, and I sought a more comprehensive source of data.

According to The Jenkins Group:

-1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives
-42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college
-80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year
-70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years
-57 percent of new books are not read to completion
-70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance
-70 percent of books published do not make a profit

These statistics raise the extrapolation of reader birth-to-death ratio by several tenths of a percentage point. According to The Jenkins Group’s information, for every reader that dies, 0.34 readers are born. This is slightly more acceptable.

I will provide you with one further set of statistics, which forms perhaps the single most important conclusion in my research:

-80 percent of survey focus groups choose a flawed set of participants to answer survey questions, such as stock market traders and Singapore housewives
-95 percent of statistics are made up on the spot
-70 percent of surveyed high school college students had just been forced to read and interpret Beowulf
-64 percent of Americans responded that they are far too busy reading books to take part in ridiculous surveys

Take from my research what you will. I have come to my own conclusions, and they include heavy marketing in Singapore.


Here is today’s Zen statement: If you always tell the truth, you do not have to remember everything.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ah! I see Stephens joined another site. Can’t say that I blame her. It’s murder out there.

Not that I mind. After all, writing is her business. Mine’s homicide. A little more pressing, wouldn’t you say? In case you’re wondering, I’m Harper. Sam Harper and Stephens is one woman who won’t accept no for an answer; acts as if the word “can’t” doesn’t exist. She’s enough to drive a good man to drinking.

Don’t get me wrong. We're friends – good friends for a while now. But I was doing just fine or so I thought until she plunged into my life and changed everything. I'm no different than any other guy. I was content to go to work, put my time in, and get the hell out. All right, so my life wasn’t worth the powder it would take to blow it away. But she wouldn’t let go -- forced me to talk about my case. Wanted to know every detail about the criminals in SILENCED CRY. To be honest, I was ready to give up, but she insisted we dig in, work the clues until there was nothing left to question except my sanity. Thought that was my job -- to drive others crazy. Let me tell you, I found my match.

Don’t let what S. W. Vaughn said about Stephens give you the wrong impression. It’s worse, much worse. I’ve seen Stephens in action. Been in her office late at night – one, two in the morning. Everyone’s in bed; her husband, the kids, the dogs, everyone. Hell, I want to be in bed, but no, she won’t let things drop until all the details in each crime scene are just as they should be.

So what drives her? I mean, she sounds normal, seems to be in every other way. Know what she told me? It’s nothing less than a passion. Yeah, that's right. Passion. I think it goes much deeper. I’ve seen the look in her eyes when she reads e-mails from readers. The ones who like the complexity of the crimes we deal with, the characters Stephens makes me go after, the twists we have to follow to find the guilty. One person called her writing his new favorite rollercoaster ride. She liked that -- a lot.

Look, I’m just a cop, but I guess it makes sense. After all, where would she and I be without readers? Nowhere, my friend. Want to know what else? She said the day she forgets that is the day she’ll quit. So for crying out loud, keep those e-mails coming. The ten minutes she’s focused on you, means ten more minutes of sleep for me.

See you later,
*tapping microphone* Ahem. Um. Yes, well, they said I had to get up here and introduce myself. I keep remembering the lines of an old song, "please to meet you, hope you get my name" - yeah, well.

I am the goofball of the group. I write those silly things, cozies, and try my hardest to keep your funny bone going while you help solve the crime. My characters are from the southern US, and are so southern, in fact, (just as I am) that you will almost smell the cabbage as it simmers on the stove.

And I am so proud to be a member of this group, that I am fairly bouncing in my seat. You're going to love it here or my name ain't Kim Smith, and I can assure you it is. Even though it sounds faker than a four dollar bill, it's who I really am. You can call home and ask my male spousal unit.

So, I will leave the stage now, and let the more eloquent speakers take over, but y'all just wait! This place is gonna be jumping like a pond full of frogs! Whoo wee!

I'm the Evil One

Allow me to echo the sentiments of my fellow bloggers in expressing my great delight at being part of this blog. This is the beginning, and beginnings are often the most momentous of occasions.

I'll begin by letting you know that I'm the evil one. But don't worry; I won't bite.

I'll leave that up to my characters.

Each of us here brings something different and equally interesting to the table. I hope my partners don't take offense at my attempts to encapsulate them, but I'd like to offer a word or two about them.

Aaron is a sweet and wonderful man, with a rich, lyrical and fun writing style that's earned him quite the loyal following - including me. Some of his descriptive passages have left me breathless. Here's a warning: don't read any of his Gus LeGarde mysteries on an empty stomach. His renderings of sumptuous dinners will have you drooling, and you'll smear the ink.

Marta is an amazingly organized and enthusiastic powerhouse, with a gritty noir writing style that blends empathy and detail for page-turning reads. Go ahead and try not to fall in love with Sam - but if you do, you're not alone.

Kim is a hard-working lady with boundless energy, with a writing style that combines suspense and fun. Her realism and solid characters leap to life - if you don't believe me, check out the page for her novel on her website, and see all the places they've been.

Me? I already told you. I'm the evil one. And I look forward to meeting you.


Welcome! It's such an honor to be part of this new blog - I am indeed in esteemed company with Marta, Sonya, and Kim. I thought as my first post I'd pull up an article I wrote about writing inspiration in the warm days of summer - especially since it's supposed to drop to ten degrees tonight here in upstate NY!

Savor the Moment

It’s the last day of August. Autumn has already stretched tentative tendrils toward us, cooling the evenings and drenching the morning with heavy dew. Today, as I rounded the top of a hill overlooking the valley, my breath caught in my throat. Before me lay the snaking path of the Genesee River, previously hidden from casual view behind fields and woods. Nebulous clouds of fog hovered above, revealing the river route that quietly meanders out of sight most of the year.

My soul exploded with a sensation of splendor best described by the Japanese philosophy, wabi sabi*. This was indeed a wabi sabi moment, a fraction of time linking nature and man, steeped in intense sensual beauty…so full of wonder it transports you to a moment of spiritual enlightenment.

In addition to the vapor-bound river, the countryside lay punctuated with farmers’ ponds, exposed via banks of fog steaming overhead. Normally hidden by tall fields of grass or corn, the wisps of moisture called attention to the quiet shallows, home to frogs and watering holes for livestock.

Stunned by the beauty, invigorated beyond belief, I continued on the drive that I’d taken thousands of times before. Heading north on River Road, whispers of “Thank you, God,” floated in my brain. Still and amorphous, the words vibrated in syncopation with stirring grasses.

Once again, nature presented a feast so lovely I choked with emotion. There, to the east, clusters of wheat waved in the sunlight with heavy heads bowed under the weight of soaking dew, their curvatures swan-like as they moved in glistening silence.

The ephemeral nature of this phenomenon is part of the allure. That precise moment of intense immersion, that amazing connection with nature, will never repeat. The sun's rays may not hit the grass with exactly the same angle or intensity. The grass will change tomorrow, perhaps drier, taller, or shorn. This transient moment of staggering beauty must be absorbed and cherished.

What path do writers take to experience this? How do they open the channels in the brain that might have been content to listen to Haydn’s 19th Symphony in C Major, but blind to nature’s offerings? (this was playing on the radio when I delighted in these visions today.)

First of all, one must be a “visualist.” That isn’t a real word, but it describes what I mean. A person who is stunned by physical natural beauty (certainly not at the exclusion of aural, tactile, or emotional stimulae) possesses visual aqueducts to the world through his or her eyes. Infinitesimal flashes of stunning images move him beyond belief. These impressions are captured in his mind’s eye, never to be lost, forever to be savored. And often, when this type of writer is creating, they see the “movie in their mind,” pressing from within, allowing readers to feel intimate and involved in a scene.

What type of a reader are you? Do you soak up scenes written by others? Imagine them for days on end? Find choice gems of passages that affect you for life? Do you want your readers to feel this way about your own prose?

It is this deeply felt appreciation for nature, for life, for wonder, that promotes a good writer to potential majesty. Perhaps not to best-seller status – that illusory fate is in the hands of a publishing industry often not tuned into art, but focused solely on profit. Try to ignore that aspect when you are creating your next masterpiece. In time, if the stars are aligned and you achieve this pinnacle of greatness, it may happen.

Open your eyes. Reel it in. Absorb the beauty around you, whether it is the flash of love in an old woman’s eye, or the fragile petal of a tiny orange cinquefoil. Allow yourself to be in that moment, record it in your soul, and play it back for your readers for the ultimate connection.

* Wabi Sabi for Writers, by Richard Powell, Adams Media.

Book Festivals 2008

Attention authors and readers!

Publishers Weekly has posted a list of 22 book festivals that are scheduled to take place between February and July 2008.

Contact information is available with each listing. Please check the festival Web sites for more information, details on participants, activities and educational programs.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Whether your reading preference is for a throat-clenching thriller, a page turner crime/suspense, or a can't-put-it-down cozy, look no more. In Murder by 4 you'll be given an insider's look at the lives of four published authors; Aaron Paul Lazar, Kim Smith, Marta Stephens, and S. W. Vaughn who will introduce you to their unique styles and entertain you with their talents and diverse experiences.

What has brought them together? An unquenchable thirst to create memorable characters – the stories whose truths will linger long in the minds of readers, but more important, a desire to share with readers and authors alike.

Here you'll find interesting articles, author interviews, articles by guest bloggers, reviews, and an insider's look at the publishing world. So pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee, and take a moment to read their profiles and visit their websites while we put things into motion.