Monday, March 31, 2008

In Sickness and In Health by author James Goodman

James Goodman was born in Dover, Delaware in 1971, but has traveled extensively. Some of his travels around the world have been in service to his country. Others have been in service to his family, but most have been in service to his heart.

He graduated from Peach County, Georgia before joining the Army during Operation Desert Shield. He served with honor, pride, and a whole lot of spent shell casings during his three-year hitch. He attended college at Oklahoma State University and eventually received a BS in EET.

James resides just north of Tulsa, Oklahoma with his loving wife and their rambunctious son. They are an active family, and when they can pull James away from the keyboard or out of a book, they spend their free time wakeboarding, hiking, practicing mixed martial arts, riding motorcycles and taking road trips.

He writes suspense thrillers, horror, romantic horror, and even dabbles in dark YA.

His novels include: The Writing on the Wall (Wild Child Publishing), The Dance (Resplendence Publishing), Drums of the Nunne’hi (Resplendence Publishing), and Pixels and Pain (Resplendence Publishing). His shorts include: The New Kid in the fall 2006 issue of Spinetingler Magazine and Esprit de Corps in the Weirdly2 Anthology from Wild Child Publishing.

In Sickness and In Health
by James Goodman

“Talk to me.” Marcus pleaded with his wife’s rigid back. “What have I done to deserve this?”

He stepped closer and his breath moved her hair. His hand hovered near her shoulder, the warmth of her skin wafting across his palm, but he couldn’t bring himself to touch her. She didn’t want him to, he was sure of it. He would only touch her, comfort her if she let him.

“I know you’re upset, Sabrina, but I can’t fix this if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”

Her shoulders slumped, dropping away from his near touch. She crumpled, knees giving way, nearly dropping her to the floor. He cupped her elbows, guiding her to the sofa. She fell into the cushions. Her gaze drifted to the picture on the end table. He watched her intently as she picked up their wedding picture, tracing the curve of his cheek with her finger.

Twin trails of mascara washed over her cheeks, pooled and finally stopped just short of the corners of her mouth. The center of the stream was still fluid, but the outer edges already dried and flaked. She looked like she wore a painted mask. A mask of sorrow. A mask he never saw her wear before. A mask he never wanted to see again.

He reached to caress her cheek, but something in her eyes stopped him. He withdrew his fingers. His heart wretched, threatened to burst.

“How could you do this to me?” she pleaded, staring straight through him, through his soul.
He drew his fingers back further, clenching them, remorse transforming to trepidation, then to anger. “What has gotten into you?”

“It’s not good for me to talk to you anymore.” She swallowed hard, the muscles of her throat contracting and expanding. “I need get better. I need to be strong.”

“That’s ridiculous. The doctor said there was nothing wrong with you,” he said, flabbergasted by her implications.

“Why did you have to take me to that place?” she asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.

Her eyes unfocused, stared at the wall behind him. He turned to see a picture of her and her best friend, framed and hung from a nail.

“It was for your friend, remember?”

He wanted to help her, needed to soothe her, but her words frightened him. He was on the verge of losing her and he knew it.

She pulled the picture of him from her lap, kissed it. “We were at the party, and you had such a good time, but then, you always knew how to have a good time, didn’t you?”

“I’m not talking about the party, goddamn it!” Why is she doing this? Why does she want to hurt me?

“Oh, Marcus.” She sobbed, clutching the picture to her chest. “That other car, the red light—I can still hear the scream of our brakes. That sound…the sound of glass breaking and metal bending. The sound of our lives being torn apart.”

“I know it scared you and I said I’m sorry. So, I had a few too many glasses of wine. It couldn’t have been that bad or they would have thrown my ass in jail.” She was acting like he was a drunk, but he rarely drank and even when he did it was never to excess.

“I don’t think you ever even saw that other car. We just plowed right into it.” She fell to her side on the couch, staring up at the ceiling.

“But you’re alright. You came out of it with nothing more than a few scratches,” he said, moving to sit beside her.

“I can’t believe it’s over,” she managed before sobs overcame her.

“What do you mean ‘over’? I love you, baby. I would do anything for you. Please, don’t say it’s over,” he pleaded, dropping from the couch to his knees in front of her. “Whatever’s wrong, we can fix it. Please don’t throw everything we have away like this.”

She pulled the picture from her chest; held it at arms length above her face.
“Why did you leave me?”

“I didn’t leave you. What are you talking about? I would never—”

His words died in his throat as she slung the picture across the room, smashing it against the wall.

“Oh God, why?” she cried out. “Why did you have to let him die?”


To read more works by James Goodman, please visit his website: or contact him directly at He would love to hear from you.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Virtual Book Tour for Tremolo - closing in on the last stop

The Tremolo Book Tour has been in motion since late December. It's winding down, now, and this interview is the last scheduled stop before the finale, where our own Kim Smith will interview Gus LeGarde, the protagonist in the LeGarde Mystery series. Gus is chewing over the answers to Kim's questions as I write this.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this interview by editor extraordinaire, Nancy Luckhurst. You can visit Nancy's blog here, or her editing website here.


Nancy Luckhurst: E.B.White once said, "Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar". Do you agree?

Aaron Lazar: Hmmm. Good question, Nancy. An act of faith? I’m not so sure if that works in my case. To me writing is more like the proverbial itch that needs scratching, a fundamental thirst so strong it must be quenched before life can go on. I feel cheated if I don’t get my writing “fix” each day.

Of course, I do trust my readers – in an intimate act of faith – to process my words without turning on me, which is unfortunately part of writer’s angst. I guess that really is an act of faith! And naturally, I don’t expect them to read stuff fraught with grammatical errors. That said, grammar is not the essence of writing, just a necessary cousin to words poured from the heart.

Nancy Luckhurst: Do you think there are inherent differences between writers and non-writers?

Aaron Lazar: Another excellent question, one I haven’t pondered before. I guess if we define “non-writers” as those who don’t currently write and who don’t have the skills/talent/drive to write, then I’d be able to analyze it properly. Some folks are “writers,” but don’t know it yet. But they share many inherent mechanisms with established writers. Let’s lump these “potential/future” writers into the “writer” category and compare them with the folks who have no desire to put pen to paper, ever!

I’ve noticed some commonalities that propagate across writers.

- Writers soak up every little detail in the world around them and are consumed with the need to record it for all time. This is much like an artist or photographer in many regards.

- Fiction writers have stories that pummel them from the inside, begging to be let out. They dance with delight when given an opportunity to spin a story from an original idea. For example, my critique partner, Patricia Fowler, just sent me a scene that popped into her head. No story line was attached to it, but the characters captivated me and the setting was glorious. I wanted more. I suggested a few twists that could happen to these lovely characters, she countered with a few spicy ideas, and I added some fanciful notions to that – and we were both in Heaven, delighting in the possible permutations of this book-to-be.

- Fiction writers pay special attention to dialogue and dialects. They often have a talent for mimicking accents with the written word, and can masterfully recreate life-like conversations.

- Writers often read voraciously. A frequent complaint is that they can’t find enough time to do both – read and write. But by reading, they are taught by some of the best. That’s how I learned to write – by reading and absorbing the literary nuances of my favorite authors.

What about non-writers? I think these folks – whether readers or not – are equally absorbed by their own passions, whether they be medical researchers, astronauts, or armchair quarterbacks. Being true to one’s soul is the key here. It doesn’t matter if you write or don’t – as long as you pay attention to your calling and love your family.

Nancy Luckhurst: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Aaron Lazar: My favorite part is that mind-dumping whooshing that happens when a story flows out of me for the first time. It’s immensely satisfying – like an amusement park ride. The scenes tumble out – sometimes planned, sometimes popping out of nowhere. The characters deepen. The action gets my blood pumping. And I can’t wait to get back to the computer each day to dash down the next chapter.

Nancy Luckhurst: What makes a character interesting?

Aaron Lazar: I can only answer this from my own point of view as a reader. I am drawn to characters who live and breathe, to whom I can relate, and who I distinctly visualize. I usually am drawn to “real people” characters who exhibit heroic efforts in their own lives and who sometimes have a twist of the exotic. But occasionally I’m taken by an “evil” character, such as the character Jenner, in SW Vaughn’s series that starts with “Broken Angel.” (coming soon from Lachesis Publishing)

Nancy Luckhurst: How well do you feel you know your characters?

Aaron Lazar: I know them inside and out. I have to – since I’m a series writer! But sometimes I forget a stray element when I move from one series to the other. Thus, I keep a list of “reminders” about their history, etc. on hand to keep me honest.

Nancy Luckhurst: Gus LeGarde seems to be a virtuous and admirable husband, father, and friend. Will we see a darker side of Gus in future books?

Aaron Lazar: There is no darker side of Gus. What you see is what you get! LOL.

Of course, Gus will always be faced with failings or flaws that keep him humble. I believe there is enough “darkness” portrayed by commercial vehicles today and purposefully created a character of great inner strength and tenderness, one who young people would strive to be like and from whom all folks could learn.

Nancy Luckhurst: Are there any types of scenes you find particularly difficult to write?

Aaron Lazar: Fortunately, I have a rather vivid imagination. If I can “picture” the scene, like a moving playing in my head, I can write about it. For scenes based in areas where I have little or no experience, I’ve got movies and other books to help me create it.

Perhaps, though, I do avoid such material. I don’t have any scenes where a surgeon is operating on a patient, or a smart-as-a-whip lawyer is cross-examining a criminal. Since I don’t have a lot of experience in those arenas, I guess that’s why I don’t write about them!

Nancy Luckhurst: Is it difficult is it to stop tinkering once you've completed a story?

Aaron Lazar: God, yes. It’s impossible. If I pick up something I wrote a few years ago, I cringe. It’s never good enough. If I didn’t have deadlines, I’d never be done. Of course that absurd desire to perfect the book is balanced by my all-consuming need to start the next novel. So it works out in the end.

Nancy Luckhurst: Have you ever trashed a story before it's completion? I remember reading how Stephen King threw out his initial work on Carrie, and only after his wife Tabitha retrieved it from the garbage and encouraged him to continue with the story did he decide to complete it. Of course, we all know how that turned out!

Aaron Lazar: Not yet. But I’m considering it with my current WIP. LOL!

Nancy Luckhurst: Gus is portrayed as an avid gardener and cook. Are you a good cook and do you have a specialty dish? Do you have any plans to write a cookbook and incorporate some of the recipes for dishes you've mentioned in your writing?

Aaron Lazar (smiling): I guess I’m a pretty good cook. My family seems to think so, anyway. I love using fresh garden vegetables and making all kinds of soups. But I don’t have a specialty dish. Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to work on choosing one! But I do hope to publish a Gus LeGarde cookbook some day. All of the meals Gus prepares in his books are based on real meals I made. The only problem is I don’t measure anything. Ever. I just throw it together and it comes out tasty. So I guess when the cookbook comes out, I’ll have to back track through Gus’s meals and recreate them with photos and measurements.

Nancy Luckhurst: You've mentioned in other interviews that engineering is your "day job"; do you find engineering disciplines helpful in your writing career?

Aaron Lazar: Indeed I do, because I work with a wealth of wonderful people whose lives I share in one respect or another. The stories that come out of real life are superb fodder for plot ideas and spin-offs. There is also a great commonality in the realm of solving mysteries in engineering. Whether you’re solving a complex problem in a digital printer or trying to design a new dry ink to meet tough industry standards, the methods required to solve such challenges can be similar to that of solving a murder mystery.

Nancy Luckhurst: Some people feel it requires selfishness (in addition to hard work and a lot of luck) to become a successful writer. Do you share that opinion?

Aaron Lazar: I agree with the hard work and luck comment, but I don’t think one necessarily has to be to selfish to get one’s writing done. It’s possible to balance your writing with home life and still be a loving spouse/parent/friend to those around you. Note I said, “possible,” and not “easy!” It’s hard to balance both without making yourself into a martyr or becoming too self-involved.

Nancy Luckhurst: If you could write only one more book, what would it be about?

Aaron Lazar: Oh, Nancy, you just made my heart stutter. Only one more book? I can hardly imagine it. But if I were diagnosed with a deadly illness and had to choose today – it would be one more book from Gus’s childhood, a literary romp through the sixties that would make readers swoon with nostalgia.

Thanks, Nancy, for the unique and insightful questions and for being a host on the Tremolo book tour. ;o)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Amazon to force POD publishers to use Booksurge

Whether you are an established published author or aspiring to have your work published in the near future, you need to take note of this week's event. This is another attempt by one of the big boys to get even bigger and it will hurt readers and authors alike. If you haven’t heard, Amazon purchased BookSurge a small POD publisher/printer back in 2005 and is now forcing other POD publishers to use BookSurge to print their books “or else.” The following are excerpts from articles printed this week in Publishers Weekly, The Wall Street Journal and Writers Weekly.

Writers Weekly 3/28/08 Telling POD Publishers - Let BookSurge Print Your Books, or Else...

"Reports have been trickling in from the POD underground that Amazon/BookSurge representatives have been approaching some Lightning Source customers, first by email introduction and then by phone (nobody at BookSurge seems to want to put anything in writing). When Lightning Source customers speak with the BookSurge representative, the reports say, they are basically told they can either have BookSurge start printing their books or the "buy" button on their book pages will be "turned off."

The book information would remain on Amazon, and people could still order the book from resellers (companies that list new and used books in Amazon's Marketplace section), but customers would not be able to buy the book from Amazon directly, nor qualify for the coveted "free shipping" that Amazon offers.

Don't believe it? I didn't believe it either. I am Angela Hoy, the co-owner of POD services company and publisher of I am well-known in the industry for my activism performed through Writers Weekly Whispers and Warnings. Over the years, we have helped writers recover tens of thousands of dollars in fees from deadbeat editors and publishers, helped them negotiate better contract terms, assisted writers in obtaining payment after their copyrights have been violated, and even assisted police in collecting evidence to prosecute criminals who have preyed on writers. I am also the author of 11 non-fiction books.”

“...What can you do? Let Amazon know what you think about this "offer" by Amazon/BookSurge.
The names of their Officers and Directors are here:

Amazon's Investor Relations Team email address appears near the bottom of this page:

Their address is:, Inc.
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108-1226

Next, tell your author friends, your book buyers, your website visitors, your ezine subscribers and everyone else about this situation. was built on books. Books are written by authors. Unfortunately, it appears authors may ultimately be the innocent pawns in this power struggle."

Read entire article in Writers Weekly Links to other related articles are available on the Writers Weekly page.

Publishers Weekly 3/28/08
Amazon to Force POD Publishers to Use BookSurge
by Jim Milliot

“BookSurge, Amazon’s print-on-demand subsidiary, is making an offer that most publishers would like to refuse, but don’t feel they can. According to talks with several pod houses, BookSurge has told them that unless their titles are printed by BookSurge, the buy buttons on Amazon for their titles will be disabled. A detailed explanation of her how the new program was explained to her is provided by co-owner Angela Hoy on her blog.

Over the last year, BookSurge has been trying to cut into the market share of pod leader Lightning Source and is using the selling clout of Amazon to generate more business. “I feel like the flea between two giant elephants,” said the head of one pod publisher about the upcoming battle between Lightning Source and BookSurge/Amazon. He said although the deal with BookSurge will be more expensive, he has no choice but to make the move since most of his authors expect their titles to be for sale on Amazon. He added that his company will also continue to use Lightning Source for printing as well. Amazon's BookSurge mandate extends to traditional publishers as well as to online pod houses.”

Read the entire article in Publishers Weekly

The Wall Street Journal
Amazon Tightens Grip on Printing
By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg

" Inc., flexing its muscles as a major book retailer, notified publishers who print books on demand that they will have to use its on-demand printing facilities if they want their books directly sold on Amazon's Web site.
The move signals that Amazon is intent on using its position as the premier online bookseller to strengthen its presence in other phases of bookselling and manufacturing. Amazon is one of the biggest booksellers in the U.S., with a market share publishing experts estimate to be about 15%. Amazon doesn't comment on sales. "

Entire article is available to subscribers of The%20Wall%20Street%20Journal'>The Wall Street Journal

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Writing is Like Climbing Mt. Everest

kim smith 2008

Have you ever wondered about the experience of climbers who go on Mt. Everest hoping to summit the mighty peak? Have you ever associated the likeness of such a feat to writing? Only the very adventurous and quest-hungry person might see how the similarities are endless.

Climbers start out alone, flying to the beginning to meet with others who have a similar interest. Writers start out with a simple idea and often join up with others to see if there is a way to accomplish their newfound goal.

Peak-seekers try to stay focused. To do otherwise might well end the journey before it is begun. They buy the best equipment and train their bodies and minds. Writers set aside time to be in their writing world, and they get together utensils to work their craft. Many will take meditation instruction to get their mind-set to where it needs to be in order to write and others will seek out instructors to tell them the pitfalls and best methods.

The Everest climbers will start out slowly, getting themselves acclimated to the change in atmosphere and environment. They start to ascend with a mixture of hope and fear. Writers likewise test the waters by writing short pieces and poems and finding the failures sting, but successes, no matter how small, are juicy bites of the peaches in life. So they go on, attempting more with a larger work, a book, or novella.

Many climbers only make it to the first level rest area before saying okay this is far enough. They see the sunlight from high up and they know the darker rise before them may be more than they can do. Writers face their first hurdle when the book they decided to embark upon isn’t coming out quite right. They realize that the longer more difficult work still lies ahead and maybe this art form is not quite their cup of tea. Many will stop here at the point of having said, I have written.

Others, more adventuresome and daring, will find the path higher. They will experience a colder height, where there are fewer plants to see and more blue sky. The path rises getting steeper and steeper. Some writers will obtain this stage too. They will actually finish that book. Get to the end and say, yes I have done well. Yet both groups are given the chance to stop here. Not necessary to go further. They have proven that they can finish and they find people at this point who will give them plenty of accolades for such accomplishment.

But the others, the group of determined ones who climb to summit the top of Everest, or to obtain a publishing contract from a traditional publisher, will go on again. This group of climbers and writers is much, much smaller. They tread the more treacherous path. Here lie dangers, and the fear level rises as high as the next peak.

For the climber, now there are sheer rock faces, snows and avalanches. They are faced with isolation from even each other should something befall them. The writing group is similarly situated, for many of the group that they began with will have given up at this point. Now they are submitting to agents and editors, attempting the final goal of publication and experiencing rejections, and doubts that threatens to make them quit.

Here both groups discover inner struggles with themselves. They become the epitome of the good angel and bad angel over each shoulder. Learning to not listen to the voices either heralding their forward movement or cursing their failures becomes the most intense factor of the journey.

Then finally, the top is met. The climber is exhausted, dehydrated, and jubilant all at once. The writer is overjoyed and overwhelmed. With such success comes much responsibility. The climber has to take a while to recover from his exercise, give his body time to heal enough to go on. The writer has to learn to handle the new position they are now in and how to promote himself or herself in the book market.

Finally, after achieving the ultimate goal of summit or publication, the road becomes a different one. A downward turn for the climber because he still has to descend to where he began, and an onward trip for the writer who will continue to have peaks and valleys to uncover and master with second, third and consecutive books.

Whatever else may be said of the climber or the writer one thing is for certain, and that is, they will never be the same again. Now they will pay back the community whose support they sought out through the long trip. Giving back in knowledge and encouragement for the ones to come after is the best way to shed light on the path to the top of the mountain.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Interview with Aaron Paul Lazar

MS: Aaron, you have four Gus LeGarde Mysteries published: DOUBLE FORTE (2004), UPSTAGED (2005), and MAZURKA (2008). These books reflect the character of Gus LeGarde at varies points in his adult life. Yet, your third book, TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON (2007) portrays Gus LeGarde at the tender age 11. What prompted you to depart from the format you established in the other three books?

AL: I was a supremely happy child, Marta. And some of the most delightful times of my youth happened while spending summers at my grandparents’ camp in Maine. Even though the last time I was there was in 1961, when I was nine, the memories constantly invaded my brain, begging to be documented and let out. To tell the truth, when life got really tough, I’d frequently picture camp – particularly the swing my grandfather made for me. I’d imagine jumping from the swing, running down the sandy hill to the dock, and jumping into the cool green lake. It was a scenario that I’d frequently taken part in, in real life as a child, and there was something so immensely refreshing about the event that it popped into my consciousness repeatedly. To be frank, it was probably driven by a need to self-comfort during traumatic times.

MS: What challenges did you encounter with respect to the writing the same character in a younger voice?

AL: To tell the truth, Marta, I found it the most natural thing in the world. I just put myself back into my own childhood brain and wrote it as I remembered it. Of course, the villains and chase scenes, etc. were thankfully fictionalized, but I just pictured how I’d react as a child in these scenes and wrote it. I penned the original book in about 12 weeks – with little editing done afterwards, except for typos and one chapter I inserted.

Of course the real answer to this question is that I’m really still 11 years old inside, and it was my own voice that took over for TREMOLO.

MS: Every author has their own “ritual” so to speak that they follow when the sit down to write the next book. How do you know when the next one is about to emerge? What process do you follow? Are your plot ideas triggered by specific incidents or do you allow them to simmer a while before you dip your pen in the inkwell? (Sounds so much more eloquent than “pound on the keyboard” doesn’t it?)

AL: The first five or six books came out of me with a reckless rush. It was as if memories from my past begged to be recorded and stroked back into “reality.” Many of the scenes from the books originated from my life. The fear of losing my wife made me imagine how it would feel to lose a spouse. So, when Gus mourns for Elsbeth, the feelings are rooted in similar fears of loss in me. Also, I used my father’s death and my feelings of desolation during that period of my life as triggers for the agony Gus felt. There were (and are) many stories waiting to be let out – so I just kept writing them as they tumbled forth.

Most of the time, however, I collect a loose bunch of ideas and go forward with them – no outlines or chapter breakdowns are written ahead of time. For example, when I wrote VIRTUOSO (the fifth LeGarde mystery, in the queue to be published), I knew I wanted to start with a small plane crash in a field near Gus’s house. I knew he would save the pilot, who ended up being a childhood friend with a deep secret. It would be my “art” book, including one theme that dealt with a fake Monet. I envisioned a historic mystery that included Gus’s ancestors and an artist named Daniel Ridgeway Knight, and a scandal involving singers at the Eastman School of Music, which my daughter Melanie attended. Of course, there were no tenors like the one that tried to seduce Gus’s step-daughter, Shelby, in real life. And last of all, I pictured a chase scene at the Metropolitan Opera House and Central Park. That’s how it started, and when I began writing, things gelled, new ideas came to fruition, and deeper themes emerged.

That’s my usual approach. So far, it’s worked well for me. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m lazy and don’t want to plan it all out ahead of time. And sometimes I think it’s a good way to foster impulsive creativity. What do you think, Marta?

MS: Your approach is probably closer to what most writers do. The stories or part of our stories are usually sparked by something in our hearts or background. I love every detail that you’ve written into TREMOLO. Common every day things that only those of us who lived through or grew up in the early sixties would remember (i.e.: the feel of a 5 cent recycled green pop bottle against the lips, “...soft lavender sweater with small pearly buttons was worn backwards ... on her feet were black Capezios...”). How much of the book was drawn from memory? Were there parts that you needed to research?

AL: Every little detail came from my memory. We had those green pop bottles on the porch at camp, and I can still feel the bottles against my lips. I remember the girls in school wearing those Capezios and sweaters turned around backwards. Why, I’ll never know. But small details like that stick in my memory. There was one thing I had to look up, however – it was when the Beatles songs, etc. were released. I lived through the eras, adored the Beatles, and followed their lives with intense fascination, but I couldn’t remember what year which song came out. I also did a little research on the mystery woman in cabin 15, but mostly it was a fantasy meeting with her, a tribute of sorts.

MS: Anyone who knows you, knows your devotion to your family. What legacy do you hope to pass on to your children and grandchildren through your writing?

AL: What a great question. I guess I hope that someday my family will remember me through my books. They’ll read about Sam Moore’s gardens (in Healey’s Cave and the sequels to come) and remember the same details from my gardens…I hope they’ll remember the mock orange bushes and their heavenly scent, the Japanese Knotweed colony that I battled one whole summer, or the yellow tomatoes I grew and tended each season. I’ve tried to capture most of my great family feasts in Gus’s books, so perhaps they’ll recreate them some day. But most of all, I want them to relate to a passion for life, for finding the truth, for being strong and facing evil, for loving one another, for being brave and honest and trustworthy, and for communing with nature to find joy and to maintain good health, and for being good stewards of the land.

MS: Please tell us about your other books and what’s in your publishing future?

AL: I began DOUBLE FORTÉ late in 1997, but didn’t really get serious about it until a few years later. I rewrote the whole thing in 2000, and then the writing bug bit. It bit hard, and I couldn’t stop. The stories just flew out of my brain and begged to be released. I wrote the final version of DOUBLE FORTÉ and the rough drafts of UPSTAGED and MAZURKA in one year, spending about three months on each. Since then, I’ve written TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON, FIRESONG: AN UNHOLY GRAVE, PORTAMENTO, VIRTUOSO, COUNTERPOINT, and LADY BLUES: FORGET ME NOT, the next books in the LeGarde mystery series. DOUBLE FORTÉ and UPSTAGED have been available since 2004/5. I just received my first 200 copies of TREMOLO in the mail today, and it’s official release date is mid Nov. MAZURKA will be released in May/June 2008.

I’ve also started a new paranormal mystery series, called Moore Mysteries. HEALEY’S CAVE, the founding book in “the green marble series,” will be released in June 2008, to be followed by the next two books in the series which are ready to go.

For those of you not yet aware about Lazar's latest book, TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON, here's a little to wet your interest.

Summer, 1964: Beatlemania hits the States, and the world mourns the loss of JFK. For eleven-year-old Gus LeGarde, the powerful events that rocked the nation serve as a backdrop for the most challenging summer of his life.

After Gus and his best friends capsize their boat at his grandparents’ lakeside camp, they witness a drunk chasing a girl through the foggy Maine woods. She’s scared. She’s hurt. And she disappears.

The camp is thrown into turmoil as the frantic search for Sharon begins. Reports of stolen relics arise, including a church bell cast by Paul Revere. When Gus and his friends stumble on a scepter that may be part of the spoils, they become targets for the evil lurking around the lake. Will they find Sharon before the villain does? And how can Gus–armed only with a big heart, a motorboat, and a nosy beagle–survive the menacing attacks on his life?

Aaron, I’m always intrigued and inspired by the story behind the story. It’s a pleasure and honor for me to have had a small part in your virtual book tour. Best wishes for all the success you most certainly deserve.
For more information about Aaron Paul Lazar and his books, please visit his websites at:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thriller vs. Suspense

Writers: what’s your genre? If you said “I don’t know,” you’ve probably already entered The Great Genre Wars. This is an ongoing battle between authors who just want to tell a damned good story and publishers whose business is to fit those stories into neat little slots on bookstore shelves. Some of the toughest genres to call fall under the categories of mystery, thriller and suspense.

Distinguishing between mystery and thriller/suspense is comparatively simple once you know the lingo: mysteries are “whodunits,” whereas thrillers and suspense are “howdunits.” Of course, any mystery writer will tell you that there are half a dozen sub-genres you must further classify your work into, so “easy” is not exactly accurate. On the most basic of levels, though, a mystery begins with a crime and the novel leads up to naming the perpetrator; while a thriller/suspense names the antagonist out front and concerns itself with how the protagonist is going to stay alive against seemingly insurmountable odds. Mystery author Jeffery Deaver (of the Lincoln Rhyme series) puts it quite succinctly: “A suspense/thriller novel asks the question, ‘What’s going to happen?’ A traditional mystery novel asks, ‘What happened?’”

So: what’s the difference between a thriller and a suspense novel? Believe it or not, there is one—though it’s an ultra-thin line that’s blurred more often than not. Put your novel to the test to determine whether you should classify it as “thriller” or “suspense”.

You know you’ve written a thriller when: Huge stakes hang in the balance for your protagonists or group of protagonists, who must stop some ghastly plot by your antagonist that threatens a great number of people, or even the very existence of humanity. Thrillers are often divided into sub-genres like medical thrillers (Robin Cook), military or technical thrillers (Tom Clancy) or legal thrillers (John Grisham).

You know you’ve written a suspense novel when: Your protagonist is in terrible personal danger and fighting for his or her life against disproportionately high odds. Suspense novels are breathless page-turners that focus more on a pivotal character, but often include high-stakes elements of thrillers.

Now you know whether you should call yourself a thriller author or a suspense author. If you’re still having trouble distinguishing between the two, take heart: most agents and publishers who work with your genre are amenable to something called a “suspense thriller” anyway.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Vital Estate and Will Planning Tips for Writers by Jane Corn: An Idea First Suggested by Author Neil Gaiman

Please join MB4 in welcoming Jane Corn, today's guest blogger.

Jane Corn is a fervent reader and writer. A freelancer, her passion for books helped drive her to top reviewer status on, allowing her access to the exclusive Vine™ Program, pushed her to Powerseller status on eBay, and is the focus of one of her many blogs, Booking Along (a book review blog). Her magazine writing has won national awards, and she manages a widespread online presence, including social networking sites and blogs. You can find Jane online at Associated Content, her online rare bookstore and of course, at Booking Along.


Noted fantasy and science fiction writer Neil Gaiman is a favorite of one of our sons. How you feel about Gaiman (love him, hate him, lukewarm) is not relevant to this article, however.

I’m mentioning the name for one reason. Gaiman had the good sense to write about the importance of “literary estates” of writers and how every author, famous or not, needs a will. Of course, everyone with heirs should have a will. But if you don’t have heirs, take a moment and think about what you envision happening to your books, unpublished manuscripts, short stories and other work when you die.

Maybe you already have a will Even so, I suggest you look at Gaiman’s blog on the subject here:

Gaiman noted that John M. Ford, a mentor for Gaiman, had not had a will. This caused a huge mess after his death.

After reading that, I called a librarian at the Special Collections, Rare Books and University Archives at a university library in my town and discovered that the information mentioned by Gaiman is still vital for writers to know.

Otherwise, your work could go to your heirs or…if you’ve bequeathed everything to your favorite pet, the dog or cat gets to decide how to dispose of your work – or the trustee in charge of said cat or dog. If this is fine by you, no problem. If not, read on.

Here is what you need to know:

1. You have certain copyright and intellectual property rights over your work while living. As many writers have discovered, HAVING the rights and keeping someone from stealing, using or abusing your work may be two different things, especially on the internet.

But at least you have those rights and some legal recourse.

2. When you die without a will, all bets are off. The term you need to learn, quickly, if you don’t have a will is “intestate”. Because estate planning and wills can be a complicated issue, the bottom line is that if you die without a will, things can get very messy, and end
up in court.

Your writings could be divided in ways you didn’t want. Maybe a son would get your unpublished manuscript while Aunt Martha got the short stories. Avoid that. Have a will. The librarian told me some shocking stories of heirs who immediately destroyed vital works of famous writers (maybe in a temporary snit about not getting some cold, hard cash).

3. Even if your published writing is already covered in your will, don’t assume your unpublished writing is equally protected. Make a stipulation that notes your published AND unpublished writing goes to a certain someone or group of heirs. If you want your collection of writings to stay together, make sure this is duly noted and make provisions and stipulations for this.

4. Consider downloading the simple will at Gaiman’s blog (above) and take it to an intellectual property lawyer, have it witnessed and signed properly. Then breathe a little easier. Make sure the lawyer notes that everything has been done legally, looks over the documents and updates the information.

5. Keep up with the latest information about intellectual property law and literary estates. One place to start? at the FindLaw website.

6. If you are famous or plan to be, consider donating your works to a library, archive or repository. This is a controversial and risky move but it may be your best chance of keeping all your work in one place, even if the library later sells it. It isn’t a move to make lightly, though. Know the risks and benefits.

Having been to many library book sales, I know that librarians do divide up author collections, even of rare works. Still, you have some negotiating room, especially if you are famous. Many libraries will try to get both intellectual and property rights to your work (when it becomes viable) but you may be able to add some stipulations. If you have no heirs, this could be worth investigating.

If you write just “for the fun of it” and pooh-pooh the importance of all this, consider the historical or other value of even obscure writing. In time, some of that material gains importance. So play it safe. Protect your literary legacy!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Forbidden Words

In the spirit of Marta Stephen's wonderful of Self Editing writing tips last week, I've decided to repost one of my writing advice articles. Of course, the list is by no means all encompassing, and will grow over time as any useful tool does. You'll find plenty in common with Marta's wonderful list, and perhaps enjoy a chuckle or two in the process. ;o)

- Aaron

©Aaron Paul Lazar 2008

I’ve collected some great writing advice over the past years. Some has worked, and some hasn’t. Recently, however, the list of “forbidden” words has grown through advice from fellow writers, agents, editors, and publishers.

It can be paralyzing.

Every time I bump against “that” or “had” in my prose, my heart beats wildly and I worry. “Does this belong here? Does it make my work sound amateurish?”

It’s almost impossible to avoid the words on the list. You can’t completely eliminate them. It’s especially true with dialogue. You want your characters to sound as natural as possible.

Let’s examine the first word on the list: down.

Now, in most cases it’s far better to write, “Horatio sat at the kitchen table and stared at the congealed eggs on his plate,” rather than “Horatio sat down at the kitchen table and stared down at the eggs on his plate.” Right? And this rule of thumb is excellent, almost universally applicable. It also works for the word, “up.” In America, we use “up,” all the time in natural conversation. “Bubba ate up all of Cat’s french fries.” “Nancy stared up at the ceiling, searching for the right word.” “Sonja messed up Veronica’s hair and then jumped overboard.” And so on. Okay, these are crazy examples, but you get the point. You could certainly eliminate some of those “ups,” right? But be careful not to eliminate it in your characters’ dialogue. You don’t want them to sound stilted. It’s perfectly okay to use common phrases such as, “Margaret, get down here! Your toast is up.”

One of the first pieces of advice given to me (aside from “Cut, cut, cut!”) was to avoid the use of gerunds and “ing” verbs. “It’s much stronger,” I was told, “to use the simple past tense, or ‘ed’ verbs.” So, like a good doobie, I went back through my first four books and scoured them for “ing”s. I was merciless. Brutal. Barely an “ing” survived.

A few years later, I realized I went too far. The words sounded robotic, too stilted. I needed some of those “ing” verbs to vary the rhythm of the sentences, to make them sound more natural. So, with diligence, I returned to my growing list of novels and revamped them. Now, keep in mind it’s always better to write, “Mabel watched the plane land,” than “Mabel was watching the plane land.”

All right. What about tenses? We all learned the proper way to conjugate verbs and use tenses, such as the case of the past perfect. When something happens in the past, such as a flashback, it’s taking place before the current action, which is already in the past tense. Therefore, the flashback needs to be cast into the past perfect, using the word “had.”


Not always. My critique partner, SW Vaughn, taught me this one. (many of the following examples are courtesy of her patient teaching.)

It is grammatically correct to write the following paragraph when referring to a recapped an event in your story:

A pang of sorrow hit me as I thought back to the dreadful time two years ago when I had lost him. He had fought the cancer as bravely as he had stood up to the Germans on D Day in Normandy. Just before we had learned the dreaded disease had returned to claim him, we had shared one final, peaceful day of fishing on Hemlock Lake.
(granted, I would have made most of these contractions to make it sound more natural.)

However, it reads smoother like this:

A pang of sorrow hit me as I thought back to the dreadful time two years ago when I lost him. He fought the cancer as bravely as he stood up to the Germans on D Day in Normandy. Just before we learned the dreaded disease had returned to claim him, we shared one final, peaceful day of fishing on Hemlock Lake.

I’ll admit, now I would be tempted to remove the “up” and would probably rewrite this passage with a vengeance. But can you see how just one or two well-placed “hads” retain the meaning of the memory? Of course, there’s always the opposite viewpoint. My current editor added a number of “hads” in my manuscript for Tremolo because I went too far!

Next came the great adverb purge. I don’t remember which book it was that got me going on this kick. Probably Stephen King’s, On Writing. (That was a great read!) Regardless of the source, I was inspired to eradicate adverbs. I became an adverb Nazi. No “ly’s” would sully my prose! I’d search for the choicest verbs. They’d glow from my pages because of their utter perfection. After that phase, I backed off a little, allowing a few adverbs here and there. Sometimes, it just sounds better with them, doesn’t it?

It’s all a matter of balance.

Let’s talk about the word, “then.” I have to admit, it’s prevalent in my work. My characters are always doing something, “then” going onto the next action. I liked it instead of “and.” It seemed to fit better and sounded more natural to me.

This year, while participating in an online writers’ critique forum, I was surprised to learn when these editors spotted the word “then,” or too many instances of “as” or even a “suddenly,” they immediately pronounced it amateurish and went to the next piece in the slush pile.

How did I react? Did I sit back and judiciously cull words from my books? Or did I throw my hands in the air (notice I didn’t say “up in the air!”) and give up? (okay, so I used up here.)

Still aching to learn the “rules” that would graduate me to “professional writer status,” I dutifully reduced the number of the “then’s” and “suddenly’s” from my current work in progress. They read better. I think…

Sometimes I end up using different “forbidden” words when I do this. It’s so frustrating, and it can be almost crippling if you let it. Although I’ll never stop trying to improve my prose, I’ve decided that I need to just “let it out” in the first draft, and then (LOL), review it in future edits to judiciously purge the evil words.

Here’s a handy list of words to keep in mind when editing:

1) “Down” and “Up” may be eliminated most of the time. “Oscar set his fork down on his plate and nodded in the direction of Conaroga,” could better be worded. “Oscar set his fork on his plate and nodded in the direction of Conaroga.” Or: “The heat wave sizzled throughout the week, drying up the cornfields to the point of near desiccation,” is better without the word, “up.” The heat wave sizzled throughout the week, drying the cornfields to the point of near desiccation.

2) Examine verbs ending in “ing,” especially in conjunction with “was” and “were.” Sprinkle them into your writing to vary the rhythm, but avoid cases such as “I was watching the birds while drumming my fingers on the table.” You might consider, “Watching the birds, I drummed my fingers on the table,” or, “I watched the birds, drumming my fingers on the table,” or, “I watched the birds and drummed my fingers on the table.”

3) Had – use sparingly to clarify the time sequence. Don’t pepper your back-stories with “hads,” and use contractions to make it sound more natural. “All four teeth had finally broken through and the poor baby was finally out of pain.” Try something like this, instead: “All four teeth broke through and the poor baby was finally out of pain.”

4) Remove unnecessary adverbs. Change sentences such as “Judy looked sullenly at me,” to something like, “Judy glowered at me.”

5) Eliminate the word “the” when it precedes a noun that could stand alone. Example: “The images from the newscast whipped across my brain,” might be replaced by “Images from the newscast whipped across my brain.”

6) Minimize contiguous prepositions, and words like “over” and “back.” “Mary threw the ball back over to Tom.” Instead, “Mary threw the ball to Tom,” or “Mary returned the ball with a vengeance.” Avoid sentences like “The boy ran over to the counter,” or “I trotted back along the trail.”

7) Steer clear of “that,” except in dialogue. We use “that” as a connecting word far too often, and we don’t need it! I’ve already removed a number of “that’s from this article. It really does smooth out the prose. Try it! “The President discovered that his agent was a spy.” Instead, “The President discovered his agent was a spy.”

8) “Suddenly” was just added to my list. I used it interchangeably with “Without warning,” “Instantly,” or “In seconds.” I am still confused about the legitimacy of this one. A good friend whose manuscript is currently being scoured by her editor said she’d removed all instances of “suddenly,” only to have her editor put them back in!

9) Another word we use a lot in conversation is “very.” Try not to use it in prose. Find a better descriptor. “The giant was very tall,” is better as, “The giant towered over us.”

10) Because can be used sparingly, but not in the following way: “She craved the hamburger because she was hungry.” This example might work: “Because of his history, he avoided the cops.”

11) Minimize your use of “then,” and “as.” “He must have crawled into the trash barrel to look for food or water and then became trapped in its slippery interior.” Instead, try: “He must have crawled into the trash barrel to look for food or water and become trapped in its slippery interior.” “His eyes shone as he sat on the front seat,” might be replaced by “He sat on the front seat, eyes shining.”

12) Avoid phrases such as, “I saw,” “I felt,” “I heard,” or even worse, “I could hear,” “I could feel,” or “I could hear.” Instead, try to show precisely what is happening through the sounds or visions. For example: “I could see the hawks flying overhead, swooping in lazy circles as they sought fresh blood.” Try replacing it with something more direct, like this: “The hawks swooped in lazy circles overhead, seeking fresh blood.”
13) I don’t care for the word, “which.” A friend, Jude, just reminded me to add this to the list. Here’s his example of an awkward sounding sentence: “I put ice on her ankle, which had already started to swell.” Perhaps a better solution might be, “I applied ice to her swollen ankle.”

13) Shun clichés like the plague. Whoops. ;o) Seriously, though, clichés are just that – timeworn and boring. Create something scintillating!

14) Try not to repeat words within a chapter. For example, if you’re describing an explosion, be sure to vary the words that refer to it, such as “the blast,” “the roar,” “the eruption,” or “the detonation.” Remember, is your friend!

If you’re totally confused by now, join the club. This whole thing can be daunting. But don’t be concerned if any of the “forbidden” words pepper your prose. Take heart. As you’ll see from similar studies, many of the classics and current bestsellers are fraught with these words. Does it matter? Heck, no. We still enjoy the books as readers will for years to come.

Consider what the wabi sabi philosophy teaches us, “Nothing is perfect. Nothing lasts. And nothing is finished.” (Richard R. Powell, Wabi Sabi for Writers, 2006, Adams Media, ISBN 1-59337-596-4)

My advice? Don’t go crazy each time you learn a new forbidden word or phrase. Simply do the best you can, write from your heart, and try to tighten your prose without squelching your own style.

Aaron Paul Lazar is an engineer by day, but his passion lies in writing. The LeGarde Mystery series involves more than breathless suspense -- the books are filled with musical, lyrical scenes that touch on life, loss, nature, family, animals, food, gardens, and music. Eight books have been completed. A second series has also been born, featuring paranormal mysteries with Sam and Rachel Moore, a retired country doctor and his wife who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Lazar’s latest book, Tremolo: cry of the loon, is available through Twilight Times Books.

Mr. Lazar also writes monthly columns for the Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Voice in the Dark newsletter, and The Back Room ezine. He lives in Upstate NY with his extended family. Visit his websites at;, and his blog at

Friday, March 21, 2008

Introducing. . . Patricia Fowler

Sometimes you find a rose growing along a broken fence, buried deep under the last dregs of snow. That’s what finding new talent feels like. It’s like the deepest breath of the first spring air. We at MB4 have been so fortunate to find someone with that talent, that love of the craft. We are very happy to introduce our readers to Patricia Fowler. Y’all watch for her work. You will be blown slap away.

Pat, tell us what it is about writing that you love so much?

I only know that I have been bitten badly by writing. I have no real training. I have no master who has taught me theme and character and plot. Nothing. I have only my heart that sees things tender; my ear that tries to shake off the trite, tries to make the words sting; and the guile to think that I could ever pull it off. That is why I write. I am caught in this riptide, so I might as well swim.

…Maybe I fell in love with you again-forgave you for those beach runaways- when you brought me the little wild rose that you found clinging to a fence post in your yard. You were on your way to work and you saw it there, drooping in the noonday sun. You told me that you went back into the house and got a pair of scissors; snipped it from its perch. You put it in a Styrofoam cup, at the checkout counter, at the convenience store. Lots of people noticed it there, said it was so pretty. But you knew that it was all for me. St. Theresa had sent its bloom up just for me.

Excerpt: Landslide
Written By: Patricia Fowler

Some stories ache to be told. Some lives need to be laid down, put to words, put to music. Especially when the life was snuffed out so suddenly. Your little light is burning along and then it’s not. Big wet fingertips shoot through a thundercloud, pinch your flame. And then you’re gone, with just this sad wisp of smoke trailing up, a curving gray ribbon. And then, the smoke just melds with the dust, leaving not a trace.

And so here I am, the sister sitting by this window in my kitchen. Looking out as the snow falls down, so soft. Thinking about her. Don’t exactly know why, but she keeps coming to me. She’s nudging me, maybe, daring me to lay it down--all of it, the ugly and the pretty. What it was like being her, what it’s like being without her. So, here I am. Not a clue where to start. But know this, I have her story to tell.

You can find the rest of this fabulous interview with Pat here:

Pat Fowler interview

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Are Your Writing Habits Sabotaging Your Work in Progress?

Kim Smith 2008

What tells you if your daily writing time is helping or hindering your current piece? Answer these questions and find out!

1. You have a mid-session mind dump. For some reason, the words stop coming, and you need help. Do you:

a. Go to a Thesaurus?
b. Grab a bite to eat and take a break?
c. Close the WIP and give up for the day?

2. You quit writing…
a. to do research?
b. to go play with your dog?
c. to finish laundry?

3. You’ve planned a nice long writing session before you go to work for a 30- minute stretch. Your efforts are:
a. Very successful—you got in 30 mins
b. Slightly successful you got in 15 mins
c. Unsuccessful- no writing time.

4. How much does your writing area affect you?
a. Very – you must have your place
b. A little, you need quiet
c. Barely – you can write anywhere.

5. How much reading do you do?
a. Maybe not as much as you should, but you do read some.
b. As much as possible
c. Barely any.


As few C’s as possible means the better you focus on your writing. You don’t quit when the writing becomes tough. You either keep your mind in the process, or get some exercise to release tension so you can work.

Notes: Everyone can lose focus, and when it happens it is far better to get up and move around, or take a break, but not necessarily quit the effort altogether. Most successful writers find that if they will stay in their chair and make a concentrated effort to get in at least 15-30 minutes of writing time, they will finish a book. Some people can write anywhere but usually distractions make the writing more effort than when they are in a quiet area that has been carefully prepared for them to write in. And many say that reading keeps their mind sharp and gives them new ideas about plotting and setting that keep them working on their own work.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


© Marta Stephens 2007 all rights reserved

When I began to write fiction, I sponged up all I could about the craft as quickly others were willing to impart their knowledge. Since then, I’ve weeded through the do’s and the don’ts and picked up a few other tips that have helped to strengthen my prose. I’m no expert. For me, learning is a life-long adventure, but here's what I know so far:

Nothing done to excess is good. We can't take all the "had," "that," and "ing" words out of our writing and expect it to make sense or flow well. Certain words should and can be avoided, but to arbitrarily cut all of the “no-no” words is just as bad as their over-use. The same goes for long stretches of narration or dialogue. If you over-do either of these, you’ll either exhaust your reader or put them to sleep.

Pace: Dialogue speeds the action, narration slows it. Tense scenes call for short/abrupt, snappy dialogue. After such a scene, give the reader a breather by slowing things down with some brief narration.

Passive: the subject of the sentence is acted upon by something else. “The bread was made by the baker.”

Active revision: “The baker made the bread.”

Past tense: when an action or occurrence happened in the past. “He went to the store three hours ago.”

The use of the word “had.”

After reading up on the subject and talking to several informed sources (including English professors) I’ve concluded that, aside from the grammatical use of “had/has” in perfect past tense, my ear must judge how often to use “had” in a sentence before switching to an active past tense.

Example #1: "When Tom was young, he had overheard unsettling talk of the war. His father had served, but he had never admitted or denied killing another."

Granted, this is exaggerated, but technically there's nothing wrong with this sentence. All the events mentioned took place in the past. It is, however, cumbersome and all the "hads" make it redundant.

Revised Example #1: "When Tom was young, he overheard unsettling talk of the war. His father had served, but he never admitted or denied killing another."

So here's the unspoken “had” rule:

1. If the sentence makes it clear that the event happened in the past without using the word “had,” remove it.

2. Leave “had” in if its removal changes the meaning of the sentence.

Example #2: She reached for the small clay bowl from the kitchen table containing a mix of local herbs and other untold ingredients she had crushed into a near-powder consistency.
In this sentence, “she had” indicates an action taken by the character.

Edited Example #2: She reached for the small clay bowl from the kitchen table containing a mix of local herbs and other untold ingredients crushed into a near-powder consistency.
To remove “she had” from the sentences makes it clear the herbs were crushed, but it doesn’t show who crushed them. Since the character isn’t involved in the action, the reader would have to assume the herbs and other untold ingredients were 1) previously crusted by someone, or 2) purchased in the crushed form.

Both examples #2s are technically correct. However, this sentence is from my work in progress and the woman is a healer and engages in voodoo. For the sake of the scene, it's critical for the reader to understand that she is the one who made the concoction. In this case, #1 is the better choice.

Good Grammar Links:

“The” in front of a noun: Eliminate “the” when it precedes a noun that could stand alone. Example: “The beams of portable spotlights shone like beacons on the beach below.” Can be changed to: “Beams of portable spotlights shone like beacons on the beach below.”

Tags & Beats
Stick to “said” and always place the tag after the noun or pronoun. To use anything other than “said” distracts the reader (“said” is invisible). Words such as growled, barked, scoffed tell the reader how the character spoke rather than show it through the dialogue and action.
Example #1: “What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John growled.
Example #2: “What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John said as he slammed the door.

Beats: Beats are a great alternative to tags. They show action and emotion. Here’s the same sentence using a beat instead of a tag.
Example: “What difference does it make that she’s gone?” John yanked open her closet door, grabbed her clothes, and threw them out the window.

The “it” word. If not used correctly, “it” can lose the reader’s focus.
Be certain “it” refers back to a noun just previously mentioned. If another noun is used between “it” and the noun it refers to, you'll lose your reader.
Example: “The dog chased after a ball into the street. It was hit by a car.”

What did the car hit? The dog or the ball?

A few words to avoid in narration:
That, just, however, therefore, thus, thusly, very, really, suddenly, obviously (if it is obvious, don’t tell--show it).

Anything goes in dialogue: A character can say anything he or she wants including all the words we avoid in the narrative and clichés as long as the author establishes those words in the character’s speech as part of his characterization. The same goes for speech patterns and odd words.

Don’t state the obvious: Near-miss and mid-air collision. If it’s a “near-miss” it didn’t happen. And where else would airplanes in flight collide? Another thing that falls under this category is to not summarize the action. If the scene is written properly and effectively shows the action, don’t summarize what just happened in a subsequent narrative. Doing so talks down to the reader.

Repetition of words or phrases: Look for repeated words within the same sentence, paragraph or in close proximity to one another on a page. Use your thesaurus to find unique words that will add spark to your writing.

Ellipsis: Shows a pause. Use three periods with a space after the word it follows and the word it proceeds to show a pause or hesitation.
“I can’t remember what … I’ll have to think about it.”

Use three periods with a space after the word it follows to show a pause or hesitation at the end of a sentence.
“I can’t remember what …”

Em Dashes: Shows an interruption or show emphasis. Construct the em dash by striking the hyphen key twice with no space between the hyphens and no space before or after the words the em dash separates.

To show interrupted speech:
“You can’t pin the murder on me. You have no—”
“I have your fingerprints.”

For emphasis: “You must attend the meeting on time—no exceptions.”

Advice from Browne & King’s, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Show don't tell: How to catch yourself telling. (Page 16)

“...telling your readers about your characters’ emotions is not the best way to get your readers involved. Far better to show why your characters feel the way they do. Instead of saying, "Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recoiled in disgust." describe the room in such a way that the readers feel that disgust for themselves."

The “as” and “ing” construction:

Browne & King (Page 193): "One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to avoid two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers, namely:
'Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.' and

'As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.’

Both the “as” construction and the “-ing” construction as used above are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and unambiguously. But notice that both of these constructions take a bit of action ("She pulled off her gloves") and tuck it away into a dependent clause (Pulling off her gloves...") tends to place some of your action at one removed from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. If you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.

Another reason to avoid the “as” and “-ing” construction is that they can give rise to physical impossibilities." (i.e.: "Disappearing into my tent, I changed into fresh jeans." The ing construction forced simultaneity on two actions that can't be simultaneous."

Words ending in “ly”
Replace “ly” verb with action verbs. Instead of: “He angrily punched the pillow.” which tells the reader how he punched it (but in my opinion not to what degree of anger), try: “He slammed a fist into the pillow.”

Self-Editing... (Page 196)
"Chances are, as you bang out your first draft, you use the first verbs that come to mind--verbs that are commonplace and comfortable, verbs you don't have to dig too deep to find. Set, for instance, as in:

"She set the cup and saucer on the kitchen table."

Then, since set doesn't really convey what you want, you find the extra nuance you need in an adjective, tack on an -ly to make an adverb, and hook it to the verb. ...when you use a weak verb and an adverb to do the work of one strong verb, you dilute your writing and rob it of its potential power."

I’m sure I’ll keep adding to this list, but it’s a start.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lies, Lies, Lies

After last week’s post, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come up with anything interesting to say on this blog, ever again. The wonderful comments and exclamations of joy from everyone got me thinking about why stories like the one I posted have so much more impact than stories like Eliot Spitzer’s resignation or Geraldine Ferraro’s disparaging remarks, in a culture where negativity seems to reign supreme.

My conclusion: honesty. Simple, heartfelt honesty is a powerful thing – and the reason I prefer my minimum-wage fast food job to the lucrative but deceitful and manipulative world of advertising. I’m reminded of the movie Crazy People. If you’re not familiar with it: A man who works in advertising, disillusioned by the lies his department routinely generates, creates a brutally honest ad that is inadvertently run in the New York Times (“The Freak: This movie won’t just scare you, it will f*ck you up for life”), generating enormous success. The slip lands him in a mental institution, where the inmates help him create a truth-in-advertising phenomenon, using such slogans as “Metamucil: We help you go to the toilet so you don’t get cancer and die.” Another insane ad for diet pills urges people to call their toll-free number and admit they’re fat, in order to receive a free plant.

The sad fact is: honesty is refreshing. When we find it, we latch onto it as though we’ll never see its shining face again. Casual lies are ingrained, almost expected, in our culture, and we’re even encouraged to tell “white lies” in order to spare feelings. Lies are convenient, while honesty is hard.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything. This statement may seem oxymoronic, but I am confident in asserting the truth of it:

Good fiction is honesty.

The stories are made up, the characters are made up; but the themes and the emotions are very real. Whether consciously or unconsciously, every writer infuses his or her work with the truths life has shown them. When we get it right – when we manage to paint those truths in vivid color, using interesting characters and a compelling plot – our work shines. The truth may be positive (good triumphs over evil) or negative (change is inevitable), but it is always there.

Good writers may be just like everyone else on the surface. They may practice deceit where society requires it. They may lie and tell a friend they look great in canary yellow and fluorescent orange camouflage. However, when it comes to fiction, a good writer is incapable of lying. The truths they have come to understand will penetrate the story, and strengthen its honesty, which in turn reflects the truths of the reader.

We love fiction for its honesty. And that’s the truth.


S. W. Vaughn

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Road to Short Story Publication

Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize in the short fiction category, Deborah J. Ledford’s publishing credits include two short stories featured in Red Coyote Press mystery anthologies, one of which won the Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards for short fiction. “For Katie” is published in the Arizona Literary Magazine and is also available at AnthologyBuilder. “Graves of Echo Canyon” will be presented via podcast through Sniplets later this year. “The Troublesome Drawer” was recently acquired by Twisted Dreams Magazine for their June 2008 issue.

Deborah’s literary short story “For Katie” won first place in the Arizona Authors Association 2005 National Literary Contest. “Graves of Echo Canyon” won third place in the Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine (FMAM) International Flash Fiction Contest. Deborah is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (AZ), moderator for the Scottsdale Writers Critique Group.

The Road to Short Story Publication
by Deborah J. Ledford

Are you having trouble receiving the respect you deserve as an as-of-yet unpublished novelist? Agents and editors appreciate writers who are dedicated to the craft, but how do you prove your worth while finishing your work in progress? My advice: Take the time to create short stories and submit them for publication. Published credits add professionalism to your resume and look great in a query letter when it comes time to approach agents with your novel.

Novel excerpts are acceptable for many markets. As long as a chapter from your novel works as a standalone, a chapter will qualify for submission to a number of publications. And if the piece is acquired, you will receive invaluable advance publicity for that novel.

Perhaps you’ve written a compelling passage or fascinating character that doesn’t quite fit in the novel you’re writing. Can you flesh out the details in order to create a short story? We all have little jewels crying to be polished.

There are many markets out there looking for flash fiction pieces (short stories under 500 words) to fill their white space. Although flash fiction can be quite the challenge, to me, they are the most fun to write.

Best foot forward: As with long fiction, short stories adhere to proper formatting. A good template has been created by William Shunn. The piece is written as a short story using Industry Standard Formatting, with one exception: most publications now accept 12 pt Times New Roman Font rather than Courier. And some pubs have varying guidelines, so be sure to check their websites for the most updated submission guidelines for each market you plan to hit. Their sites will also state reading periods as to whether or not they are currently accepting submissions.

Most markets want pieces in the 1,000 to 7,000 word count length, but I advise not to go over 5,000 words. Most print magazines only feature 3-4 fiction pieces per issue and they need recognized writers to provide one of these stories for sales purposes, so don’t thwart your chances with a story too long in length.

Okay, so now you have a polished short story ready to submit--where do you start? The best resource I have found is Duotrope which touts over 2,100 markets to choose from. By accessing their homepage you can target your search for ideal markets by genre, length, payscale, media (print or electronic) and submission type (postal, electronic). Duotrope also features a website function that will take you directly to the publications site in order to check out their submission guidelines.

Print publications are of course the most prestigious credit, however many E-zines are being recognized as legitimate markets, and with print costs on the rise publications are going electronic more and more.

Keep in mind that most markets pay only nominal fees (if anything at all), but the gold here is adding a publishing credit to your professional experience.

Contests are another route to take in building your status. There is a great list of legitimate and recognized contests on the Poets & Writers website. You will however be required to pay an entry fee to most contests (generally $15.00), but your odds of being singled out are much better with a couple hundred entrants vs. thousands of submissions made to print publications. Money is awarded to the winners and if the contest is sponsored by a magazine, the first place winner will oftentimes be printed in this publication. End result: 2 professional credits.

Once you have published a story or two (and after your contract has expired with the publisher) you may then load them onto your personal website. To add legitimacy, be sure to note the publication where the piece first appeared. I also suggest you mention within your query letters that your published pieces are available to be viewed via your site.

A bit of caution: Many writers don’t know that if their short story is loaded on the Web and available to be viewed by anybody, the piece is considered “published”. So, if you want advice or critiques from readers before you submit the short story to legitimate markets, be sure to delete them from any sites where they appear. This goes for your personal websites as well. Instead, request that critiques be carried out via a private source, such as personal e-mail. And unless your work has been previously published, don’t feature stories on your website.

There you have it--one route to successful publication you may take.


Deborah’s suspense thriller novel STACCATO was one of 25 semi-finalists in the truTV (formerly Court TV) Crime Writers contest, featured on You may view two of these chapters at: STACCATO – Chapter 1 STACCATO – Chapter 2

To read three of Deborah's previously published short stories, please visit her website.

The Starling: A true story by Aaron Paul Lazar

©2008 Aaron Paul Lazar


My grandson and I rode the John Deere lawn tractor, pulling a cartful of leaves and sticks toward the burn pile.
“Papa!” Julian said. “A birdie! Don’t run over it!”
I slowed and turned off the tractor.
“It’s okay, buddy. We didn’t hit it. But I think he’s already dead.”
The starling lay on its side; its plumage glistened blue-black in the hot sun; its eyes dulled.
“Why’s it dead?” Julian asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe it was a very old bird.” Or maybe it hit the window.
“Did someone shoot him?” he asked. His eyes filled with unshed tears. He climbed down and leaned over the corpse.
Shooting had become a big deal in his life and I couldn’t figure out why. Everything he picked up that remotely resembled a gun was aimed and “fired” at bad guys. Empty paper towel rolls, dried perennial stalks, plastic table legs… it didn’t matter what it was, it turned into an instrument of death.
“Did they…did they shoot him?”
“No, no. I’m sure that wasn’t it, honey. I think he was just old,” I fibbed.
Allouette sat on the porch, eyeing us with her jade green eyes. Her fluffy black and orange tail plumed up and down–a bad sign for a cat.
Had she killed the bird?
I shrugged off the thought. Normally her prey was delivered neatly on our doorstep with a cacophony of catcalls.
We got back on the tractor and headed for the burn pile.
“Papa? Is the bird dead?”

I nodded, kissed the top of his curly hair, and answered again.
“I’m afraid so.”
We pulled up beside the pile. “Okay, key man. Turn her off.”
“I’m the key man,” he smiled, reaching for the key. When the rumble of the engine faded, he turned his face to mine.
“Why did he die?”
I sighed. This one wasn’t going away. “I’m not sure, Jules.”
I grabbed the rake that leaned against the cottonwood. Armful by careful armful, I tossed the dried twigs and leaves onto the crackling fire. The dead leaves floated up like ghostly bats, fluttering on the breeze as they rose to the heavens.
“But what will happen to him?” he asked plaintively.
I didn’t tell him that I planned to scoop it up with a shovel and toss it into the back woods.
“Come here, buddy. Let’s sit for a minute.”
I rested the rake against a tree and offered my hand. He took it and followed me to the glider.
I smiled and lifted him to my lap. “There you go. You comfy?”
He nodded, but his brow furrowed again. “But the birdie…”
An idea sparked in the back of my mind.
“Would you like to bury him, Julian? Would that be a good idea?”
His eyes lit up with hope as he nodded his head vigorously. “Yes! We should bury him. But…” His eyes scanned the property. “Where?”
I pointed toward the woods that curved around the back of the yard. “Over there. Come on, let’s get our tools.”
I set him down and headed for the barn. He scampered beside me, chattering all the way. “Can I use my shovel, Papa?” he asked. He ran inside and lifted his plastic shovel off the nail.
“Sure. I’ll bring my shovel, too.”
I grabbed the spade and we walked back to the tractor. After throwing our tools in the cart, we drove back to the lawn where the starling lay. While Julian observed, I scooped the poor bird onto the blade, laid it in the cart, and got back on the tractor. Julian jumped up on my right knee. “Okay. Key man. Do your thing.”
He turned the key. The engine roared to life. He looked up at me, beaming. “You’re the potato man.”
I laughed out loud. We’d just planted three long rows of potatoes that morning. “I guess I am.”
“And I’m the key man.”
“Right. Okay, let’s head out. You wanna drive?”
My three-year-old grandson looked at me with wide eyes. “Drive?”
“Sure. Here. You can hold the wheel.”
He moved closer to the wheel, grabbed it eagerly, and almost plowed us into the lilac bushes.
“Oops. Turn it left, buddy. That’s right. Now straighten it out. Okay. Okay, good. Now right.”
He “drove” us to the woods and automatically turned off the key when I braked near a row of old apple trees. Quickly, he dismounted and ran to the bird in the cart. I hurried to his side.
“Don’t touch it!”
He took a cautious step back. “Okay.”
I slid the bird onto the ground, then found a soft spot beneath a gnarled apple tree. “This looks good.”
I began to dig. It took only a few minutes. The dirt was typical of our land–soft and loamy. Julian helped, then I lowered the bird into the hole and covered it. He patted the dirt on top. I considered fashioning a cross to complete the burial, but his little stomach growled.
“I’m hungry, Papa.”
I guess you are, sport. It’s almost time for supper, anyway.”
We put our shovels back in the cart, then headed to the barn. My key man turned on the engine and steered with my help all the way back. After parking the tractor, we hung up our shovels and headed back inside.
“Will he come alive again?” Julian asked. His eyes darted to the woods. “Will the dirt make him better?”
“No, honey. When you die, it’s forever.”
A sudden thought flashed through my brain.
I don’t want my grandson to think it’s really over when we die.
I kneeled beside him.
“His body is dead. It will stay under the ground. But his spirit is free now. He’s in birdie Heaven.” I flinched at the words, realizing I was pushing it. Although embarrassed to admit it, I actually pictured my deceased cats and dogs in Heaven, frolicking around my father and grandparents, waiting for me to join them someday. I truly believed we’d all be reunited when we passed. But I hadn’t actually considered whether birds had souls. Somehow, the idea had appeal. If Julian could begin to understand the concept of Heaven and spiritual beings...
I tried to explain about the body and the soul during dinner. I used images of an angel, which Julian had seen, to represent the spirit. I don’t think he completely understood. But then again, neither do I.
The next day, Julian and I were outside at the burn pile, throwing on the deadened limbs from our plum tree.
“Can we go see the bird again, Papa?”
“We can’t really see the bird, honey. He’s buried.”
“But we can dig him up!” he said. “Maybe he’s alive now!”
I explained–again–while we drove to the grave.
“We don’t dig up the buried body. It won’t come alive again. It stays there.”
“But he’s happy, right? He’s in Heaven with God.”
I looked down at my little pal and grinned. A surge of love blossomed within me. “Yeah. That’s right, honey. He’s happy now.”
We walked hand-in-hand back to the house as he chattered about life and angels and Heaven. I gripped his soft little hand and sighed with joy.
Yeah. I love being a grandpa.