Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Useless Trivia: Why Writers Love It

Ask any writer where the ideas come from, and you'll get a wide range of replies. An idea for a story, character, or novel can originate just about anywhere. The world is full of inspiration, and truth is truly stranger than fiction.

One of the richest sources for inspiration is trivia - facts from ordinary to strange that can spark a plot, define a character, help a writer solve a story dilemma, or add touches of fascination to a manuscript. So, in celebration of useless information, here is a random list of facts for you. Enjoy!

* In the weightlessness of space, a frozen pea will explode if it comes in contact with Pepsi.

* The increased electricity used by modern appliances is causing a shift in the Earth's magnetic field. By the year 2327, the North Pole will be located in mid-Kansas, while the South Pole will be just off the coast of East Africa.

* The idea for "tribbles" in "Star Trek" came from gerbils, since some gerbils are actually born pregnant.

* The trucking company Elvis Presley worked at as a young man was owned by Frank Sinatra.

* The only golf course on the island of Tonga has 15 holes, and there's no penalty if a monkey steals your golf ball.

* Legislation passed during WWI making it illegal to say "gesundheit" to a sneezer was never repealed.

* Manatees possess vocal chords which give them the ability to speak like humans, but don't do so because they have no ears with which to hear the sound.

* Polar bears can eat as many as 86 penguins in a single sitting.

* You can get blood from a stone, but only if contains at least 17 percent bauxite.

* Silly Putty was "discovered" as the residue left behind after the first latex condoms were produced. It's not widely publicized for obvious reasons.

* Approximately one-sixth of your life is spent on Wednesdays.

* The sport of jai alai originated from a game played by Incan priests who held cats by their tails and swung at leather balls. The cats would instinctively grab at the ball with their claws, thus enabling players to catch them.

* A cat's purr has the same romance-enhancing frequency as the voice of singer Barry White.

* The typewriter was invented by Hungarian immigrant Qwert Yuiop, who left his "signature" on the keyboard.

* The volume of water that the Giant Sequoia tree consumes in a 24-hour period contains enough suspended minerals to pave 17.3 feet of a 4-lane concrete freeway.

* King Henry VIII slept with a gigantic axe.

* In 1843, a Parisian street mime got stuck in his imaginary box and consequently died of starvation.

* Touch-tone telephone keypads were originally planned to have buttons for Police and Fire Departments, but they were replaced with * and # when the project was cancelled in favor of developing the 911 system.

* Human saliva has a boiling point three times that of regular water.

* Watching an hour-long soap opera burns more calories than watching a three-hour baseball game.

* Until 1978, Camel cigarettes contained minute particles of real camels.

* To human taste buds, Zima is virtually indistinguishable from zebra urine.

* A team of University of Virginia researchers released a study promoting the practice of picking one's nose, claiming that the health benefits of keeping nasal passages free from infectious blockages far outweigh the negative social connotations.

* Never hold your nose and cover your mouth when sneezing, as it can blow out your eyeballs.

* Centuries ago, purchasing real estate often required having one or more limbs amputated in order to prevent the purchaser from running away to avoid repayment of the loan. Hence an expensive purchase was said to cost "an arm and a leg."

* Coca-Cola was the favored drink of Pharaoh Ramses. An inscription found in his tomb, when translated, was found to be almost identical to the recipe used today.

* If you part your hair on the right side, you were born to be carnivorous. If you part it on the left, your physical and psychological make-up is that of a vegetarian.

* Although difficult, it's possible to start a fire by rapidly rubbing together two Cool Ranch Doritos.

* It is nearly three miles farther to fly from Amarillo, Texas to Louisville, Kentucky than it is to return from Louisville to Amarillo.

* The Venezuelan brown bat can detect and dodge individual raindrops in mid-flight, arriving safely back at his cave completely dry.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thirteen Tips for Dialogue

copyright 2008, Keith Pyeatt

It seems like writing relaxed, realistic dialogue should be as simple as chatting with your neighbor, but effective dialogue requires careful attention. Each line a character speaks must be as natural as a real conversation--only better. As a writer, I'm proud when my dialogue wins praise, because I work hard to make it look easy. As a freelance editor, I see common problems, so here are my lucky 13 tips for writing dialogue.

1. Dialogue should be natural. Most people use contractions and sentence fragments when they speak. If your characters don't, they may sound stiff.

2. Dialogue is more than spoken words. A lifted eyebrow or forced smile can convey more meaning than a spoken sentence. Non-verbal responses can add nuance or completely change the meaning of spoken words.

a) "Sounds great." He slapped Jim's back and whistled on his way out the door.
b) "Sounds great," he said, but he frowned and looked at his feet.
c) "Sounds great." She rolled her eyes and snickered.

Gestures can also replace spoken words and make a scene feel more realistic. Picture a father and son building a fort. Here are some options for a line of dialogue:

a) "Would you hand me that hammer beside your knee, son?" Dad asked.
b) Dad nodded at the hammer beside Billy's knee. "Hand me that, would you?"
c) Dad extended his hand, palm up, like a surgeon awaiting an instrument. "Hammer."

3. Characters don't all sound alike. Use dialogue to help make your characters unique and distinctive, but remember...

4. A little dialect goes a long way. The same goes for speech quirks. In real life, someone might stammer or say "uh" every other sentence, but such frequency in written dialogue will annoy readers. Be subtle even when introducing dialect or a speech quirk, but once introduced, ease off further. A reminder every now and then is enough.

A final caution on dialect: Word choice is an excellent way to make characters distinctive, but don't force readers to stumble over a string of altered words like goin', arntcha, or coulda.

5. Styles of speech should match the character. As an example, a common disparity I see are characters in positions of authority--Sergeant, CEO, or police chief--using weak sentences, rambling, and giving orders almost apologetically. Readers expect those in authority to be decisive and direct. Sergeants bark orders and speak in clipped, confident sentences. It's fine to vary from that expectation. Maybe a CEO started in the mailroom and vowed never to talk down to employees. Great, but let readers know there's a reason or the mismatched speech style feels unreal and can knock a reader out of your story.

6. Dialogue in novels should be more pointed and interesting than conversations in real life. Real people chitchat, ramble, and repeat, but readers don't want to wade through small talk and redundant chatter. Dialogue should add to the story or define a character. If two characters discuss their children or the weather, there should be a reason. Maybe the discussion defines one character as an over-protective mother. Maybe there's tension behind the dialogue as a character struggles to hide feelings or notices something odd about the other. Even with tension behind the words, keep mundane chatter to a minimum.

If two characters meet, and it just feels too unnatural for them not to say howdy-do before getting to the good stuff readers want to read about, summarize the howdy-do. They caught each other up on their kids' latest misadventures before talk turned to the murder that shocked the town. Or Marvin recited his usual litany of aches before his son could mention his reason for visiting.

Similarly, avoid having a character recap events your reader just witnessed. If a character needs to be brought up to speed but the reader doesn't, summarize.

7. People don't repeat each other's names in conversation. A character may say a name in greeting, to get someone's attention, or to make a point, but it's not natural to keep addressing someone by name in a conversation. I think writers make this mistake because it's a convenient way to reduce dialogue tags, but repeating names makes dialogue ring false.

8. Proper paragraphing helps identify who is talking. Most writers know to break paragraphs every time a different character speaks. Doing so is traditional and readers expect it. But unnecessary paragraph breaks can also make dialogue difficult to follow.

"Look at me," Jimmy said.
He stretched his arms above his head and dove into the pool.
"That's great," Mom said.
She shifted in the patio chair and checked her watch.
"You've been in long enough," she said. "Dry off, and I'll make you lunch."

The paragraphing above suggests speaker changes that don't occur. Readers must adjust their expectations and search for dialogue tags to identify who is speaking. The following paragraphing allows the dialogue to flow better with fewer tags:

"Look at me." Jimmy stretched his arms above his head and dove into the pool.
"That's great," Mom said. She shifted in the patio chair and checked her watch. "You've been in long enough. Dry off, and I'll make you lunch."

9. Character references can replace tags. If a name (or pronoun) follows or precedes a line of dialogue, readers assume that's the character speaking. Looking at my examples above, note how "Jimmy stretched his arms..." replaces "Jimmy said." It's smoother and there's no confusion without the tag.

10. Dialogue tags should not stand out. "Said" and "asked" are nearly invisible to readers. Alternate tags like uttered, assured, observed, asserted, declared, responded, snapped, vented, and urged call attention to tags. Wouldn't you rather have readers focused on the dialogue itself or what the characters are doing?

A tag like "whispered" can work, because whispering is not the same as speaking.

11. Effective dialogue rarely needs descriptive help. "Go to your room" doesn't need "he ordered" to be an order. "Get out!" doesn't need "he exclaimed" to be an exclamation. "Oh gee, I don't know" doesn't need "she said indecisively" to be indecisive.

If you do use a descriptive tag, make sure it makes sense. A character can't laugh a sentence, for example. A mistake I see with surprising regularity goes something like this: "Leave me alone," she hissed. There's not a sibilant in that statement. A character can't hiss without an "s."

12. Characters don't tell each other things they already know. Editors often call this the "As you know, Bob" syndrome.

"As you know, Bob, my wife ran off with the pool boy ten years ago, and I've not heard from her since."

That information is directed at the reader, not Bob. Bob already knows. Some writers struggle with this, but it's completely natural to relay information to the reader outside of active dialogue. Here's a snippet from my novel, STRUCK, to demonstrate.

Alvin stared out the window, looking even more miserable than usual, and said one word, "Chaco." The pueblo ruins in Chaco Canyon had become Alvin's passion over the years. He spent a day meditating there any time he could convince someone to drive him.
"What about Chaco?" Walter asked.

See how that's more natural than, "As you know, Walter, the pueblo ruins in Chaco Canyon have become my passion over the years. I meditate there any time I can..."

13. Mix thoughts and dialogue. I mention this last, but it's important. A scene that's nothing but spoken dialogue can feel flat. Including physical movements help (a character sips water, drums her fingers, or even blinks or smiles), but to add real depth to a scene, mix in the point-of-view character's thoughts, expectations, and motivations.

I'll end with another snippet from STRUCK to illustrate several points I've mentioned above, but especially how internal thoughts can add depth to dialogue. This is from a scene in Manuel's point of view. He and Sebastian are making plans to drug another man. Manuel's thoughts are highlighted in blue. Notice how they reveal Manuel's feelings about Sebastian and shed light on the relationship between Sebastian and the waitress. Without the thoughts, the conversation would still work, but taking advantage of being in Manuel's point of view to show his inner thoughts adds layers of meaning.

Manuel accepted a small vial of white powder from Sebastian. "This is enough to put him out?" He closed his fist over the vial when their waitress, a sturdy-looking woman in her fifties named Valerie, approached their booth in a back corner of the bar.
Valerie always waited on Sebastian. Her eyes lit up every time he teased with her, but their interplay had subtly changed recently. Manuel suspected they'd passed the genuine flirting stage and now screwed regularly. The flirting that went on these days was an act, either because they liked the secrecy or to fulfill some old-fashioned need to protect Valerie's virtue.
Valerie set down a bowl of pretzels and replaced Manuel's empty beer bottle with a full one. "Another whiskey?" she asked Sebastian in her raspy, smoker's voice.
"You ever notice me stopping after two?" Sebastian's demeanor always warmed when he chatted up Valerie, making him seem almost human.
She smiled and turned to Manuel. "Don't try keeping up with this one drink for drink." She jabbed a thumb at Sebastian. "Big men like him have big appetites."
"True enough." Sebastian arched a bushy eyebrow and made a show of examining her body. "For lots of things."
Her eyes twinkled, and she cleared her throat. "I'll get you that drink."


Keith Pyeatt is a novelist and freelance editor. He writes paranormal thrillers he refers to collectively as "horror with heart" and edits anything that grabs his interest. Keith's first published novel, STRUCK, is due out in July '08 from Regal Crest Enterprises (www.regalcrest.biz). Learn more about Keith at his website, www.keithpyeatt.com, or his blog, www.keithpyeatt.blogspot.com

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Taking Pleasure in the Little Things: Geese, Plums, and Haiku

Last week we talked about writing outside ones comfort zone. Many of you commented (thank you!) with examples of experimenting or taking challenges: sliding from poetry to screenplays or from novels to haiku. Most agreed it's a good thing to stretch ones writing muscles in new directions.

As you may know, I'm a novelist. I sit down, and books pour out of me. They rattle around in my head, begging to be released. Not that they don't require plenty of hard editing after that, but that's my comfort zone. I've dabbled in haiku before, and enjoyed it. But I'm not especially good at it. Even so, I decided to give it another try after our discussion last week.
On Tuesday, I drove to work along River Road, just south of Scottsville, NY, in an area rich in scenery. I've taken many lovely photos on this bucolic stretch of country road. It features magestic trees, rolling cornfields, foggy tendrils from the river, and misty sunrises.

About half way up, I saw my favorite white geese. They walked four abreast, each one just a step ahead of the next, so that they formed a diagonal, like one half of the "V" formation when birds fly overhead. They stopped in the fog in front their stone farmhouse, flanked by beautiful alfalfa and cornfields. Behind, the woods lined the background and beyond that, fog rose from the Genesee River.

When I passed, they stretched their necks up high and stared at me. I laughed out loud, it was so funny. And just plain gorgeous.

(Now, see? That's the usual way I would write about this experience.)

This wonderful, delightful moment in time is a good example of what I mean by "taking pleasure in the little things." I say this all the time, and probably drive people crazy with it. But it's how I live my life and it also helps enormously when coping with hardship.

My mood soared. I passed through patch after patch of luminous fog. The sun peeked through the treeline. I got a few shots (when I wasn't being tailgated by a couple of cowboys), but mostly the beauty filled my soul and I just soaked it in. Such great fodder. Such inspiration.

During the rest of the commute, I worked on this haiku.

(the photo is awful - I tried to catch these little guys this morning, but it was VERY far away and the sun hadn't come up yet.)

Four white geese
Beaks dripping with dew
Stare at me

I tried to make the last line (three syllables) have a punch. I tried "follow me," "stand in fog," "raise necks high," and more. Many more.

But the fact of the matter was, these geese stared right at me. As if I were disturbing their quiet morning. How dare I?? They seemed curious and slightly indignant.

I thought of replacing "me" with something less... I don't know... personal. Or less simple. Something more artsy, like "stare through fog" "stand in sun," "turn away," etc. But nothing seemed to match the actual scene better. So, I stuck with it, simple as it is.

I've also been enamored with plums this year. My four plum trees have gone wild, hanging heavy with so much fruit that I've been constantly cooking up plum sauce from my Stanley, Shiro, Green Gage, and Santa Rosa plums. Mmmm.... It's really good piping hot over Amish friendship bread or french vanilla ice cream. (just slice, remove pits, add a little water, boil til soft, and add sweetener of choice.)

So I worked on another haiku to try to capture my delight with this fruit. I'm not sure if I got it, but here are some photos to help.

Cold blue plum
Skin coated with dusk
Falls to ground

See that coating on the skin? I love when you rub it and it suddenly reveals a deep purple or blue, all shiny and just begging you to bite into it. I wanted the second line to reflect that coating. Words that crowded my head were "dusty," "musky," "fingerprinted," "fogged," "muddy," "murky," and others.

I tried and tried to find five syllables to describe that lovely coating that reveals such beauty beneath when rubbed on ones favorite teeshirt. ;o) So, I ended up with "skin coated with dusk," even though you can't really coat skin with dusk. But - dusk is dark, murky, and sometimes foggy. So I took a few liberties. Did it work? I'm not sure.

Here are some Stanley prune plums that I picked to make sauce with. (plus a few leaves Julian brought inside to "decorate the house." So cute!)

I washed them, pitted them, and cut them in rough chunks. Aren't they gorgeous? The Stanley plums are green inside before they soften, and cook up nice and tangy.

Look at this delightful ruby color they turn into when they're cooked.

There's very little left on the tree - on the highest branches. I must get the ladder out to snag these last few beauties.

Meanwhile, as you go about your daily routine, stop to take a look at the little things around you. Take pleasure in them. Take photos. And maybe write a haiku or two. ;o) And if you love to write, remember to write like the wind!

- Aaron

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at http://www.legardemysteries.com/ and http://www.mooremysteries.com/ and watch for the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in fall 2008 from Twilight Times Books.

Friday, September 26, 2008

With Fall Comes Open Calls and NaNoWriMo Brawls

Jodi Lee, Editor in Chief for LBF Books, senior editor for Lachesis Publishing, and successful author, holds forth on balancing the demands of writing and working in publishing—and offers tips for writers looking to break into print, as well as what to do with that NaNo Novel once you’ve typed ‘The End’.

I was a writer before I became a slush reader, and a slush reader before I became a copy editor, and a copy editor before I became a content editor. Obviously, I was all of those things before I became EiC of LBF Books. Things have moved fast in the last three years, and in the flurry of words and red mark-up, I lost Danserak, my fornit*. My muse packed up and moved in with Danserak, and as I have noted on my website, they are raising some nasty looking little Munits. Seriously.

Their vacation is nearing an end. I will demand they come back to work, full-force, November 1st. For the fourth year, I've decided the best way to break out of my little box is to throw myself into National Novel Writing Month. 50,000 words in 30 days equals 1667 per day. This is the first year I’ll be working full time and attempting NaNoWriMo.

See, thing is, I’ve let the editing come between me and the writing. That is a good thing, in some aspects; reading new writers on a daily basis is heartwarming, even though I end up writing rejection letters for at least a good 95 percent of them. I have read some spectacular manuscripts in the last year, and I've read some utter dreck. I’ve turned down books I know will someday be sitting on my bookshelf, published by some other company. I’ve turned down books I know will be nothing more than an eager young writer's pipe dream. And through all of it, in the back of my mind, that little voice tells me my own writing will never measure up to those I've rejected. The walls of the little box become more and more solid with every sarcastic whisper, with every implication, with every tiny, evil giggle.

I know, we're all our harshest critics. Editors have the hardest time compartmentalizing the internal editor; it’s almost as though we’d rather leave him or her running around in our psyche, breaking down our own self-confidence. In fact, my internal editor has recently become so strong he managed to goad me into deleting an entire manuscript. Thankfully it was a short story, and it probably wasn’t any good anyway. Right? Yeah, right. Looks like another layer of wood has gone up around the little box.

For several years, I've told other writers and friends that the best way to break a block – to get out of that little box - is to force yourself through it, full-steam ahead. Join NaNoWriMo or one of the other similar groups. During the summer break, I joined July Novel Writing Month and actually doubled my word count from a previous year, although I was only halfway to finishing the 50k. There is a WriMo for nearly every month, and National Novel Writing Year as well. There’s National Novel Editing Month, which has a step-by-step monthly plan for revisions and rewrites, and which does run all year round, despite the name.

What I want to see from NaNoWriMo this year, is not only will I have a finished story, but after another six months or so, I will see some wonderfully crafted works come to us at LBF. I know you're wondering where I'm going with this, but just bear with me another few sentences.

A lot of NaNo winners have gone on to have their books published. I am confident that at least one finished and polished 'NaNovel' will grace my inbox by next July. I am making it LBF Books' goal to publish at least one 'NaNovel' in the 2010 publishing year.

If you're going to compete in NaNoWriMo this year (or if you have done in past years) and you want to submit your novel to any publishing house, I suggest you follow these simple steps before even considering it:

1. Find a 'first reader'. This person should be able to give you an unbiased opinion of your work. Family members and friends generally shouldn't apply.

2. When the critique is finished, take the advice into consideration before embarking on the revisions. I don't care how clean the manuscript is, it'll need a revision. Just do it.

3. Find a 'second reader'. This one should not only give you an unbiased opinion, but he or she should be able to do proofreading as well. This is what we mean by a polished manuscript; very, very few to no errors of any sort.

4. Do your research. Look up the submission guidelines for each house you want to submit to. Follow them as closely as absolutely possible. If the house says it's closed for submissions, it's closed. Don’t submit, move on to the next one on the list. If in doubt, query.

5. Send it out, one at a time. If you are an impatient sort and your choice markets allow for simultaneous submissions, go for it – just remember to let them know it's a simul-sub, and if it gets accepted, let the other markets know.

Good luck, and I'll see you at the finish line!

*Fornit – a creation of Stephen King in his short story "The Battle of the Flexible Bullet". A small creature that lives inside a typewriter. Mine lives inside an antique Royal.

BIO: Jodi Lee has been writing and working as a professional editor for nine years. Her work has appeared in Apex Digest, The Blessed Bee, newWitch, Nocturnal Ooze, Night to Dawn, and the recently released collection Vampires – In Their Own Words. Her short horror fiction has been featured in multiple anthologies.

Jodi currently serves as Editor in Chief for LBF Books, senior editor for Lachesis Publishing, and Submissions/Copy Editor at Apex Book Publishing. You can find her online at Jodi Lee Bleeds, as well as on MySpace and Facebook.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Writing Prompts

When I woke up this morning, I realized it was my day to blog, and I hadn’t even considered what I would write about. I didn’t do so well with my own daily word count yesterday, either. I think sometimes we all go through down periods where the well runs a little dry, and we just cannot get the words to flow. If you are going through one of these, don’t feel alone because you aren’t. Sometimes additional input is all we need to get our writing brain on the run.

Honori de Balzac (1799-1850) was a prolific writer of the 19th century who wrote from midnight to dawn almost every day of his life, turning out a million words a year. Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was a prolific French writer who wrote poetry and novels at a huge rate. He wrote The Hunchback of Notre dame and Les Miserables if you didn’t know, and he produced at that same amazing million words a year rate.

Well, if these guys can do it, we can too!

The thing is, writing prompts are all around us. We can turn on the news, pick up a magazine or even check out our Facebook account and find a prompt to send us off on a day of some pretty effective wordage. But we have to want to. We have to take the steps to get there. Don’t be afraid to LOOK for a prompt.

This happened to me yesterday. A friend posted an item where you had to list the first line of twenty plus songs. I was off and writing in a minute with some of those.

If you can’t seem to find any of that kind of prompt to get you going, here are some others. This is just a short list, you can make your own.

Write about what you would say to someone who knocks on your door for directions.
Create a list of words and write about them. For instance, empty box, receipt from the store, dirty sock, and floral arrangement. Use those in a story. In fact, I think I will. It just sounds like my character, Shannon Wallace.

Think of a possible scenario. Like, what if you wrecked your car in a church parking lot, what might transpire? Would you resort to cursing? What would the lady in the fancy hat that sits on the first pew think of you?

Examine emotions. Just make it a paragraph using one emotion, for instance sorrow. Make it powerful by using colors and weather and setting. The setting sun in all its fiery glory has inspired many stories about anger.

No matter what sort of motivator you find to get you going, the plan is to GO. Start writing and don’t stop for a while. This exercise for today’s blog took me about fifteen minutes. Over 500 words in fifteen minutes! 500 words is approximately two pages in a manuscript if it has 250 words per page. Not too shabby, eh?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

25 for 25 - Free Pre-release Download of THE DEVIL CAN WAIT

by Marta Stephens

It is with the utmost pleasure and great excitement that I post this announcement by my publisher, BeWrite Books (UK) today. I hope several of our readers will take advantage of this great offer and certainly look forward to signing a copy of THE DEVIL CAN WAIT to the lucky pick of the best 25-word review!
* * *
BeWrite Books (UK) is offering an exclusive opportunity for people to get their hands on 25 pre-publication eBook copies of Marta Stephen's' latest novel THE DEVIL CAN WAIT.

The book itself isn't out until November 2008, so this is a chance to read this book before anyone else. All we ask is that you promise us a review of 25 words. Why 25 words? Well 25 copies for 25 words! We'll then choose a winner at random from those we receive and the winner will get a signed copy of the paperback upon publication.

We'll use the reviews in promotion and publicity with your name on prominent display, including posting it on Blippr, the new site for reviews of 160 characters or less.

So for your chance to receive this pre-publication eBook (pdf) before everyone else, send us an email and we'll send the eBook to the first 25 people who email us here. And then you send us your review before November 1st 2008.

Here's the book's info:

The city of Chandler, Massachusetts is plunged into terror when the bodies of three local teenagers wash ashore. While homicide detective Sam Harper hunts down the guilty, a sinister plot emerges overseas. From the Vatican to the jungles of South America, a cursed black pearl ring, the demonic prophecy it represents, and the men who pursue its powers find their unfortunate way onto Harper's turf.

Enthralled by the ring's story and a front-page spread, newspaper reporter Jennifer Blake agrees to pick up the ring at a local pawnshop for her former college professor. When she does, unforeseen events shoot Blake to the top of Harper's prime suspect list. Soon, the seemingly unrelated cases converge and the heat is on for Harper to expose the truth behind a Vatican secret and stop the self-righteous man who does the unthinkable in the name of God.

ISBN: 978-1-905202-86-7 (paperback) 978-1-905202-87-4 (eBook)
Price: $15.99 (US), £8.99 (UK), $16.99 (Ca), €11.99
Page: 316
Release date: 3rd November 2008
* * *
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website (above).
SILENCED CRY (2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival & Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery) EXCERPT

Monday, September 22, 2008


© Susan Wingate 2008 all rights reserved

Last night I was up at 1:30 a.m. working. That’s the way it goes. You wake up with a drumming idea banging at the side of your skull, one that won’t let up. So, you get up and click on the computer. It’s comforting somehow, that glaring blue-white ray emanating from the throbbing monitor. This usually happens when I’m involved in a story and rarely happens when I’m not. Why write then? Why suffer tormented sleepless nights and logy days? Why burn out your retinas finding that perfect lexicon, that perfect phrase? Because writers must – that’s why. It’s our passion and we can do nothing about it nor would we, if we could.

And what am I writing that wakes me in the wee hours of the morning? Well, of late, my writing examines the odd and often volatile relationships of women. In each of my three novels, (BOBBY’S DINER is my latest release), women have been forefront at the heart of each novel’s conflict. Recently, my interests about women-in-conflict have led me to writing about that conflict. I can say that, in my thirteenth year of writing professionally, women’s fiction is my writing niche.

“Oh sure!” I hear you say. “But, how does one find their writing niche?” That’s an important question, a question I hope to answer in three different ways.

Find Your Niche #1 – Analyze the different writing genres.
You can find many resources for writing genres (and subgenres) by going to different writing websites, online bookstores and, if you’re involved with any, writing associations may list the various genres on their websites. As a member of the Romance Writers of America, I have a full-blown website available to me at my fingertips. The RWA website lists not only the various genres of romance books but also subgenres.

Print and online resources such as the WRITER’S MARKET (Writer’s Digest Books, an imprint of F+W Publications, Inc.), provide a host of publishing opportunities but they also list each genre category for fiction as well as nonfiction. It’s a great tool – one that no writer should be without. Plus! The Writer’s Market online guide is a screaming deal for around $30 a year. That’s cheap, folks. It’s well worth the extra money spent to find publishers who publish in your genre and at your fingertips.

Find Your Niche #2 – Know the genres of the books you like to read.
Nine times out of ten, people who read in one specific genre, write in that genre as well. Examine the books you enjoy and ask yourself why you enjoy them. Parse out the way an author develops her story. Break down the stories she writes into the parts found in every book – the beginning, the middle and the end. Map each moment of conflict – different genres normally settle into different plot structures.

A great tool for understanding key elements of different plots is a book called, 20 MASTER PLOTS: AND HOW TO BUILD THEM by Ronald Tobias. He not only lists the plots but he provides a handy checklist after discussing each plot.

Find Your Niche #3 – Find a reliable group of readers.
As a writer, by now you should be putting your work in front of other eyes. And, I’m not just talking about your husband and your children. No, I’m talking about people you know who read a lot. Are you involved in a book club? If you are, ask one of those folks to read your work. Make sure the person you choose is someone whose opinion you value. Ask them to answer specific questions about your work – like “does my main character feel fully-developed” and, “what genre do you think this book would fall into?” You don’t really need more than three readers.

People you know are a wealth of help when it comes to your writing. Getting feedback from readers is a crucial step for writing your novel. Their responses will allow you to understand how a larger populace might respond to your story. Plus, more often than not, they like being involved at the early stages of the book. And, by all means, add your readers to your acknowledgments. Because, when the day comes and that special publisher says, “We’re sending you our standard book contract.” You’ll be ready to thank your readers properly.

Your writing niche is part and parcel to the publisher with whom you will market your book. I’m not going to submit my work fully aware that I write women’s fiction to a book publisher who publishes paranormal horror stories. That may sound obvious but you would be amazed how many writers blindly submit to publishers who just dump their submissions into recycle because they don’t publish the writer’s genre. It’s as ridiculous as submitting fiction to a nonfiction publisher. You’ll be wasting your time submitting and wasting the publisher’s time reading.

Understanding your writing genre can get your book published faster than not. Take the time to do your research. For goodness sake, you’ve spent how long writing your book? The least you can do is spend some quality time researching publishers who publish to the market in which your book was written. Be smart. Know your writing genre.
* * *

Susan Wingate, novelist, poet and playwright, received a BS in Accounting from AZ State University. Wingate brings a rare and diverse background to her creative writing. Presently, she lives in Washington State and writes full time. Wingate has written three novels. Her second book, BOBBY’S DINER, just received a book contract with eBooksonthe.net and will be released in the fall of 2008. Her short story, THE LION OF JUDAH, received 1st place honor (a monetary award and publication) in the August 2008 Fantasy Gazetteer Short Story Contest. One of her most recent accomplishments comes on the heels of completing her third novel, THE LAST MAHARAJAN, with an excerpt selected for publication in literary journal the Superstition Review, an ASU press publication. She is a contributing writer for several magazines. Since the 2007 publication of her mystery novel, Of the Law, Wingate has kept busy teaching at writing workshops and at her studio. Her short stories and poems consistently receive awards and articles can be found in many magazines, journals and reviews. Wingate publishes an online newsletter called, Sincerely, Susan which has a readership of close to one thousand subscribers. She is also a co-founder of the San Juan Island Creative Women's Group. Currently, she organizes a series of reading events for her local library. These events spotlight the community’s writers and provide a wonderful venue in which to hear their work. For hobbies, Wingate likes to read and paint.

For more information -
Website Address: www.susanwingate.com
Primary Blog Address: www.susanwingate.blogspot.com
Ebook can be ordered at: www.ebooksonthe.net/catalog/eBooks_Catalog_NewBooks2.html
For more information about Susan Wingate’s virtual book tour and her full schedule at http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2008/08/bobbys-diner-by-susan-wingate.html

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone

Good morning friends and writers!

I've been trying to heal this annoying back. I'm grateful it's getting better, but it's taking longer than I would like. Harumph! There's so much to be done! My yard is a wreck after the remnants of Ike passed through last Monday (branches down all over), there are more tomatoes to pick and freeze, and plums, peaches, and pears that ought to be processed. Never mind the painting that never got finished on the front porch! But there's always next year, and I have to be grateful that this isn't permanent, that I will heal, and that I'm blessed beyond words.

There. I straightened myself out again.

Some good did come out of this misadventure, however. Because I was forced to lay on my back for about a week, I finished the edits on FIRESONG: AN UNHOLY GRAVE, and sent it to my publisher. (this is the fifth LeGarde mystery in the series). And I was able to start working on my new book again (lucky number thirteen), THE AVIARY. What fun that is! After slogging through edits for way too many months, I'm finally feeling FREE. Free to write. Free to plot. Free to invent new characters. It feels SO good.

I'm trying to write from a woman's POV. So far, my critique partners think I've managed to nail it. But we'll just have to wait and see. Maybe next week I'll post an excerpt and get your opinions? What do you think?

It's challenging to write out of your comfort zone.

Have you done that? Are you a poet who's attempted flash fiction? A novelist who's tried haiku recently? How did it feel? Was it fun? Or just awful?

I'd love to hear about your experiences here, if you've time.

I have a video shoot at the Wood Library in Canandaigua this morning, just before my booksigning at Heron Hill Winery - so I must make this short today.

Warmest wishes to all, and remember - if you love to write - write like the wind!



Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at http://www.legardemysteries.com/ and http://www.mooremysteries.com/ and watch for the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in fall 2008 from Twilight Times Books.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Best Advice for Authors

copyright 2008, Lillian Brummet

The best advice any author could receive is: Do your research. Whatever stage you are at, whatever you are facing – research it. Find out the details from other authors and research the person or business you hope to work with. Find out what their guidelines and policies are, make a note of the person you will be dealing with. Provide them with exact and complete information.

Always research your market and query them in a professional manner before sending a finished product. Doing it right is essential - there is but little chance to make an impression with a reviewer, editor, reader or publication. However, even with the best of preparation you will be caught off guard or unprepared. Don't sweat it too much if you make a mistake. Think of it as a lesson.

Whatever we do in marketing the books, we always follow one big rule - Common Courtesy. Never make anyone work for anything. Make every option clear and easily accessible. Always follow up with your contacts with brief outlines of previous discussions so they don’t have to go looking for information. I believe that it really all boils down to deciding what would make you support that book if you were in that person’s shoes.

Keep records of your endeavors using color-codes so that at a glance you can see who needs to have a follow-up letter, whether you’ve had successes or failures with that source and if you need to provide anything to them in the future. Having short, yet detailed notes about each market (publication, radio program, journalist, reviewer, etc) will help immensely; some very important notes to keep track of are the theme or focus of the market, the audience/readers of that market and contact information.

Always, always use the signature options available on email programs, employ the reply button on emails, make sure that you have read and replied to every single sentence in their letter and offer more than what they ask for. Respond to requests for information or materials immediately. You’d be surprised how many authors query us for book reviews or guest applications for our radio shows that have incomplete, broken or improper sentences! Always make sure to use spelling and grammar in correspondence because you only have one chance to make a first impression.

Always remember in all that you do - the secret to marketing successfully is building name recognition, strong networking contacts and building lasting, symbiotic relationships.

~ ~ ~ ~

Authors - Dave & Lillian Brummet:

Purple Snowflake Marketing - How to Make Your Book Stand Out In A Crowd (e-book) ISBN#: 193335304X

Trash Talk - Learn how you can impact the planet ISBN: 978-1413725186

Towards Understanding - a collection of 120 poems on society, the environment & overcoming trauma. ISBN: 978-1413793376

Conscious Discussions talk radio show: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/consciousdiscussions

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thripz, interview with Bob Farley

Bob is an editor, writer, photographer, and lover of fine coffees. His extranormal thriller THRIPZ is a great thrill ride and I enjoyed it immensely. Here is the interview he was so gracious to give me.

1. Tell us about yourself, your life, how you became a writer.

Born in Ohio, rebelled in the 60s, grew up in the 70s, started working in the 80s in the newspaper business as a reporter and photographer. Wrote a book in the 21st century when I started staying home taking care of my only son.

2. Why did you pick this particular subject to write about? What is it about Hawaii that intrigued you?

I lived in Hawaii for over three years. An island in the middle of the Pacific, it came complete with its own religion and myth history. Land of rainbows. Very different from anywhere I'd ever been before or since.

3. Is writing your full time occupation? If not, what is?

Currently I'm a part-time editor for FinancialWire.net. Look for other work now and then, since my son is six and in school.

4. What do you think about when you can’t sleep at night?

Monsters. Spiders. Earwigs. Frying pans.

5. Who is your favorite author?

Dean Koontz.

6. Where is your favorite place to write?

At my desk, staring out the glass double doors, especially when it's raining.

7. Do you outline your books?

Yes, as completely as I can for the major ideas, beginning, middle, end. Changes happen along the way, though.

8. Who has influenced your writing the most?

The core members of my critique group.

9. Where can we buy your book?

Amazon.com. Go to http://www.thripz.com for links and ways to get an autographed copy if you really must have one.

10. What about advice for aspiring authors?

Learn the basics of English (or whatever language) grammar and punctuation.

You can message Bob here about his book or his process. I told him to come around and visit :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mountains of Books

Yesterday, I tackled one of the big projects on my to-do list for Gutting My House In Preparation For Being Stuck Inside For Six Months. See, here in upstate New York, we have two seasons: winter and construction. The road cones and detours are slowly disappearing, so it's almost time for the other season.

The project? Coralling our collection of books.

Now, it's been quite a while since I've done a thorough inventory of the volumes we've acquired over the years. I decided that, since I knew my son had outgrown some of his books, and both my husband and I had a few we no longer needed because we'd probably never read them again, it was past time to let some of our books go. I gathered a few boxes and started sorting, intending to have a nice little donation for our local Salvation Army. (We wouldn't sell them on eBay or through Amazon used books because our books, while still quite readable, have obviously been well-read. We are not collectors . . . we are readers. Our books don't stand on decorative shelves just so we can proclaim to visitors how worldly we are through ownership of books. :-)

I ended up with seven boxes stuffed with books.

Now, you might think: with seven boxes of books to give away, how many could you possibly have left? The answer may shock you. We have a very large shelving unit, currently re-housed in our living room, which contains a few hundred books of varying shapes and sizes - from a tiny board book with a cute story about penguins, to dozens of paperbacks, to an enormous volume belonging to my son entitled The Universe. This does not include:

* The books still hiding under my son's bed and/or in his closet.
* Those strewn about our bedroom - on the dresser, slipped between the bed and the wall, on and in my husband's desk.
* The stack in the bathroom, all in various stages of reading progress.
* The overstuffed three-shelf unit in my office containing my reference books, some non-fiction titles on a variety of bizarre subjects, and novels written by my friends and/or signed by writers I've met at the National Publicity Summit.
* The full encyclopedia set and the gazillion National Geographic magazines still boxed and sitting alongside the living room shelves, because there was no more room for them.

Though my aching shoulders protest accomplishing this project in a single day, I'm satisfied to have done it. Now our books are organized and accessible, ready to devour. Of course, it's only a matter of time before the collection burgeons again, and the books are set free to find their way throughout the house. I predict we're going to need more shelves before the next construction season.

How about you? Tell us about your book collection!

Monday, September 15, 2008

How libraries order books

by Liz Rozanski

Some of the sweetest words I heard as a YA library associate were the ones the director spoke about encumbering more money. In library speak, that means order books. My experience is based on my town’s library with a collection of over 90,000 titles. The reference staff ordered books and other materials for their assigned areas. In addition to ordering new materials, staff monitored the collection’s condition. Larger libraries will often have an acquisitions department to order for the entire system and the librarians in the actual library might not have any input as to what titles are purchased.

Books land on library shelves in different ways. Some books arrive automatically to the library via a plan called a standing order. Librarians are given access to preset lists of authors through their ‘jobber.’ These lists are compiled by companies such as Baker and Taylor, Ingram or McNaughton. Typically the lists include well known authors. The librarian selects to automatically receive a set number of copies of an author’s latest release. Our library has standing orders for such writers as Janet Evanovich, John Grisham and Nora Roberts. Any time those authors released a book, the library automatically received between 5-7 copies of the title. Other standing order plans target books once they hit the NY Times best seller’s list. A few plans target authors who have received a substantial amount of marketing support from a publisher. Those lists are full of books expected to become best sellers. One list brags of a 97% accuracy rate for predicting a book’s success.

A library’s collection, however, is more than just best sellers. Midlist authors do get on the shelves and that is where catalogs and websites come in. Often publishers will take out advertisements in the catalogs the book distributors send to libraries as well as the professional journals librarians receive. In addition to advertisements, these catalogs contain book reviews. As the YA person, I read catalogs generated by our jobbers and scanned online booksellers and review sites for new books. I chose not to use a standing order plan. I liked to have funds available to purchase a broader variety of titles than what the YA standing order plans offered.

Our library also considered customer requests in ordering titles. If a customer requested a title to be added, the librarian would attempt to purchase that book. If the book wasn’t available through the regular channels, however, the book couldn’t be added. Every so often an author would donate their book to the library. As long as the book wasn’t self published, the library would add it to the collection.

When books arrived at the library, the titles were checked against the invoice. Back order is a dirty word to librarians. Nothing worse than expecting a book and being told it isn’t available now. Each book’s MARC record must be uploaded into the library’s catalog system. MARC records contain all the information that builds the book’s page in the computer catalog customers use when they search for books. The books are often stamped by hand with the date they entered the collection. Books come already processed with bar codes, collection codes and even genre stickers, but those services cost the library additional money for each book purchased.

Once the book makes it to the shelf, the condition of the book is checked as it circulates. Bestsellers and new releases often have a special place in the library and are kept in that location for a set period of time before being moved into the regular collection.

When the collection is weeded, books may be discarded as they become worn. Also, some libraries will discard the extra copies of a ‘hot’ title once it is over a certain age. The library’s circulation system is checked to determine the number of times a title circulated and the library can use this information to decide whether or not to order a replacement copy or perhaps other books by the author.

Liz Rozanski served as the Young Adult library associate from 2005-2007. Upon her retirement she joined the Friends of the Library and was asked to manage, as a volunteer, their new used book store. The store celebrates its first anniversary in October and has raised over $32,000 for the library. When she isn’t at the library, she is in the stands cheering on her kids’ soccer teams. Or, she just may be at the kitchen table working on her own books and ignoring piles of laundry and dirty dishes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Writing: Angst and Joy, Shared Experiences

copyright 2008, Aaron Paul Lazar

The stages through which writers suffer in their careers are unique compared to most professions. Yet, strangely enough, the experiences can be startlingly similar from one writer to the next.

I’m reminded of this as yet another talented new writer has “found” me through the Internet and turned to me for advice. We’ve been exchanging regular email, and have covered questions from copyright to agents to query letters and beyond. I believe in helping writers whenever possible, and always try to make time for them when I can.


Because that’s what S.W. Vaughn, R.C. Burdick, Mary Emmons, and other generous folks did for me when I was just starting out.

I remember it so clearly. The angst-riddled beginning: when I’d just turned out my first novel and imagined it on the best seller’s list. I secretly hoped it would be snapped up in a few weeks, but feared at the same time how deluded I probably was, and feared I would be outed by the critics as a poor untalented slob who would never get into that elite club of “real writers.” Even though my family and friends said they loved my books... they had to say that? Right?

Time passes. More books are written. Agents get interested. Skills improve. And among the piles of rejections and torn hair and crumpled rewritten query letters, books eventually get sold. Maybe not to the big boys in the top five companies with all the promotional money, maybe not through agents who finagle six figure deals, but stuff happens and one’s readership expands.

People write to you from out of the blue. Regular people. Lovely people. People you befriend and learn from and cherish. People who say they’ve changed the way they read to their children because of your book, or who tell you they read to their dying mother and that your book comforted her. Those moments are supremely satisfying. And humbling. And so precious.

The first review comes in from a high profile literary critic. This one comes out of the woodwork, without solicitation. And he praises your work like you’ve never dared imagine. He GETS you. He really GETS you. And for the first time in your career, you feel totally validated. I’ll never forget that first time. His name was Thomas Fortenberry, and I remember the email, word for word. I opened it early on a dark Sunday morning–before dawn–and I lay in bed with the laptop humming with tears of joy on my cheeks.

It floats you to the moon, and validates you, and keeps you going. Until, of course, someone dares criticize your work. Of course, eventually it will happen, whether it’s a minor critique or a full blown trashing. You can’t make adoring fans out of everyone!

But thankfully, the really bad review ends up being written by someone with a humongous grudge on your first publisher. Someone who makes it his first order of business to drag down authors from that company. So, the sting lessens. A little.

The first book signing comes and goes. Becomes a frequent event. Book clubs contact you–and you get to meet gangs of your adoring fans. It feels good. Really good.

Maybe it’s a sign that you don’t really stink as bad as you fear? (see, that angst still hangs around for years and years.)

Libraries contact you for event after event. And suddenly–here you are, having to turn down events you only dreamed of as a novice.

It’s rather strange, and equally wonderful. And so the story continues.

Coming fresh from dispensing advice to my new friend, I’ve jotted down a few thoughts to share. Words of wisdom, I guess you could say, or at least philosophies that seem to work for me. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) Keep writing, independent of which agent or publisher you have in your sights or in hand. Write as many books as you possibly can, and grow your skills as you grow your stable of books.

2) Improve your current proficiency–continually–by befriending a few good critique partners and by reading as much as you possibly can. Great writers will be your best teachers.

3) Don't quit the day job unless you have the luxury of doing so financially. Plan to work indefinitely until you’ve sold over 100,000 copies of your first book. Really. I'm serious. (which means most of us will keep the day jobs forever) Then, wait to see if your second book flops or follows the trend of the first. There are plenty of one hit wonders out there! After two “A” movies have been made (I’m picturing about a half a million for each), then you can consider quitting the day job. That is, if you’re good with money and feel as if you can keep churning out books or a very long time. Remember, if you’re–say fifty years old–you might need to support yourself (and maybe your spouse) for another fifty years. You’d need several million to keep yourself going at a reasonable income level for that long. So don’t quit the day job yet!

4) While you’re waiting for this elusive financial success, and you’re writing book after book, submit your manuscript and queries to all levels of publishers, but only to the top agents in NYC. (my humble opinion) Consider a small high quality press to get started, especially if the big publishers haven’t snapped you up in the first year, or five.

5) Don't define your success as a writer by how many books you sell or how fast your novel(s) get picked up. Or even IF they get picked up. Define your success by the readers you win over, whose lives you may even change as a result of your writing. Cherish their comments, and realize that if you can make one person smile, or brighten their day, or give them an armchair adventure that whisks them away from their troubles – then THAT may be worth it, and all you need to be validated.

6) Although it takes time away from your writing, build a strong, genuine network of writers with whom you can share, grow, learn, gripe, vent, and just share the common angst and jubilation that comes with this long process. Do the same with your readers who fall in love with your book(s) and are willing to help you along the way.

7) Start on the next book before the first is accepted anywhere. Don't look back. Keep going and follow your heart.

8) You must believe it "will" happen. It's just a matter of time. Although my books provide a nice subsidy at this point in my career, I firmly believe that some day my LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries will sell enough copies through my high quality small press (Twilight Times Books) to catch the attention of a movie maker or giant publisher with deep pockets. And I know, I believe, I see in the future–eventually–that both of my series will some day be commonly found across the globe. Maybe it’ll be when I’m dead and gone, and perhaps my grandkids or great grandkids will benefit. That would be lovely.

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and watch for the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in fall 2008 from Twilight Times Books.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Interview with author Beth Groundwater

By author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, Marta Stephens 2008

MS: Beth, thanks so much for agreeing to stop by MURDER BY 4 and allowing our readers to see a glimpse into your writing life. Let’s start with you. You’re an award winning author. What steps have brought you to where you are today in your writing.

BG: It’s been a long slog since I started writing fiction seriously in 1999, starting with short stories and moving into my first novel-length manuscript. I’ve published eight short stories since then, but it took me seven years to reach the point where I signed my first novel publishing contract. My first novel-length manuscript was my training ground, as I applied what I learned about story structure and characterization from writing conferences and books to multiple rewrites. I finally realized I had to put that manuscript away and start on something new, which became A REAL BASKET CASE. I consider myself lucky that I only had to stash one unsold manuscript under the bed before my second one sold. There are many fiction authors who learned the craft on multiple unsold manuscripts. And that’s something the new writer needs to be prepared to do, to realize when it’s time to put away that first project that you poured so many hours into, acknowledging how much you learned from it, and start something new.

MS: For those who are not familiar with your work, what genre
do you write and who do you hope to reach?

BG: I experimented with a number of genres before hitting upon mystery and realizing it was for me. That first manuscript was a futuristic romantic suspense, many of my short stories are mainstream, and I also wrote a hard science fiction novella. When I wrote A REAL BASKET CASE, I knew I’d found my genre. I’m a puzzle-freak (crossword, Sudoku, jigsaw, you name it) and mysteries are all about creating and solving puzzles.

MS: Your second book in your Claire Hanover gift basket series, will be released in May 2009. What can you tell us about this new book?

BG: The book is titled TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET and takes place a couple of months after the events in A REAL BASKET CASE. Colorado Springs gift basket designer Claire Hanover takes a spring ski vacation in Breckenridge, Colorado, with her family. The vacation goes to hell in a handbasket when the sister of her daughter’s boyfriend is killed on the ski slope. Others think an out-of-control snowboarder slammed into her, but just before the ski patrol arrived, Claire saw another pair of ski tracks that veered into the young woman’s. Claire passes her findings on to an initially skeptical sheriff’s detective. Confusing clues point to alternative scenarios for the young woman’s death—which was definitely no accident—and put Claire’s daughter, Judy, in the path of danger. As the spiral of intrigue winds tighter and other deaths occur, Claire must draw on inner reserves of strength to conquer not only the conspiracy but also the winter elements, and like a mother bear, she must fiercely protect her independent-minded cub from harm.
MS: What can you share about the characters in your next book? Who are they, are they based on anyone in particular, and why do you think they will appeal to your readers?

Three characters from A REAL BASKET CASE make a return appearance in TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, Claire and her husband Roger and one of my favorite characters, drug boss Leon, who helped Claire solve the mystery in A REAL BASKET CASE and does so again in the second book. And, the reader will meet Claire’s daughter Judy for the first time and experience the friction between Claire and her daughter. Judy is ready to leave the nest and Claire isn’t ready to let her go. Detective Silverstone of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office has a very different personality from Colorado Springs police detective Wilson in the first book, and winds up in a cooperative versus adversarial relationship with Claire.

I don’t base any of my characters on real people, though I may pick and choose and mix up characteristics or behaviors of people I know while developing my characters. By the time that I’ve finished defining my characters with character profiles and have recorded their conversations and actions while they interact in scenes in my head, they’ve become real people to me. Their actions, words, and thoughts are based on who they are versus anything someone in my life would do or say or think. I think what makes my characters appeal to readers is that they aren’t just there to solve the mystery, they wrestle with their own frailties and problems in their lives.

MS: What would you say your greatest challenge has been as a writer?

BG: To not give up in the face of relentless rejection! I have literally hundreds of rejection letters from agents and editors on my short stories and novel-length manuscripts stashed in my files. But, if I hadn’t persisted and kept on submitting, I never would have become published. To keep my spirits up through the process, I networked with other writers who were going through the same thing. It’s important for aspiring authors to realize that rejection letters aren’t personal and that all writers get them during all phases of their careers. They’re something you have to accept and, if you’re given feedback, to learn from.

MS: Perseverance is important. I know your experience will surely help others who are just getting started. Some authors are particularly good with dialogue, description, etc. What is your strongest trait?

BG: I’ve always been good at dialogue, and conversations between characters often naturally flow out of my head. However, my strongest writing trait is what I used to think of as my weakest trait, and that is characterization. Early in my writing career, I received feedback that my characters felt two-dimensional and wooden. So, I embarked on a year-long process to learn everything I could about crafting three-dimensional characters. I took seminars, studied writing books about characterization, examined how authors defined characters in my favorite novels, and tried out different characterization techniques. That year of study was definitely worth it, because now readers of A REAL BASKET CASE tell me that their favorite aspect of my writing is how real the characters feel to them. Characterization still doesn’t come easy to me, but because I know it’s so important, I work very hard at it and am pleased to say that the results are good.

MS: Where do you go from here?

BG: I will probably continue to write books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series for Five Star Publishing. However, because of the way they do business, their mystery series authors are on about a two-year cycle, and to keep your name in the public eye, you really need to publish at least a book a year. So, I’ve written the first mystery in a new series starring a single whitewater river ranger in her twenties living in Salida, Colorado and working on the upper Arkansas River. My agent is currently shopping that manuscript to different publishers, and I’m outlining the second book in the series. The character is very different from Claire, so I think alternating between the two series will keep my writing fresh.

MS: It’s been a pleasure, Beth. Please feel free to share anything else you’d like to discuss about you, your writing, and/or books.

BG: Being in a book club myself, I love to meet with book clubs either in person or remotely via speakerphone to discuss my books, so if any of your blog readers are interested, they should let me know via the “Contact Me” form on my website (see below). Also, if they sign up for my email newsletter, they’re automatically entered into a contest for free mystery books.
* * *
About the author:
Beth Groundwater's debut mystery novel, A Real Basket Case, was released by Five Star to good reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and other national publications in March, 2007. It was nominated for a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award. To Hell in a Handbasket, the second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, will be released in May, 2009. Also, Beth has published eight short stories in various genres, including one in Wild Blue Yonder, Frontier Airlines' in-flight magazine, one which was translated into Farsi, and one which was performed in live theatre.Beth lives with her husband, two grown children and dog in Colorado Springs, where she defends her garden from marauding mule deer and wild rabbits and tries to avoid getting black-and-blue on Colorado’s black and blue ski slopes. She has loved to read since she was a child and savors those monthly meetings with her Book Club, and not just for the gossip and wine. Visit her website at www.bethgroundwater.com and her blog at bethgroundwater.blogspot.com.

About the interviewer:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival & Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Look for THE DEVIL CAN WAIT in November 2008.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Plot - how do you do it?

We all plot our books differently. The ways and means are as individual as our DNA. They say there are only so many master plots in the world. But your take on any of those, well, that’s the fun stuff.

I have created a short list of questions to get the ball rolling for plotting your book. This is by no means complete, nor is it set in any sort of concrete.

1. Create the theme or story idea, what is this book about?
2. Who is telling the story?
3. Who is the supporting character(s)?
4. Are they mentors, villains, sidekicks?
5. How do they know the main character?
5. Where does the story take place?
6. What is the inciting incident?
7. What is the conflict?
8. How is this resolved?
8. How will it end?

Also, under the conflict idea, you need to know what the character wants. What is their main motivation, and why is it that they cannot have it? These are the building blocks of good conflict. A writing instructor once said, give the character two choices, sucky or suckier, and you will have a book that keeps the reader turning pages.

And you can do the plotting backwards, which is a very clever way some authors in the mystery genre start their planning out. If you already know whodunit, you can certainly figure out why, how, and when and where it happened.

Remember, a plot is just the building plan, the architectural drawing of the story. Plot, the scheme of things, is transformed by persons, places or things. Add in color, dialogue, setting, and suspense, or humor and you have a real book in your hands.

Vary the structure to fit your story’s needs, but remember there is a theme to everything. Keep your mystery mysterious, your romance romantic, and your fantasy otherworldly, or you may create confusion for the reader. They like to know that what is on the cover is within the pages, too. Sheesh. Nothing like picking up a book with a sexy guy on the front to find out he’s not a romantic interest for the heroine, but instead a sheep herder/murderer/Martian, and this is a western historical/fantasy. (kidding)

Finally, if you can tell the difference between the following two sentences, you know plot.

“The dog ate my homework.” Or “The dog ate my homework because he hates me.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sex: How much to reveal ...

... in the crime/mystery genre.

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Okay, now that I have your attention. My work has been described as crime/mystery, suspense, and hardboiled. My readers expect to see action, but not in the bedroom.

Many questions ran through my mind when I started the series. Never having written in the genre before SILENCED CRY, I wasn’t sure how risky it would be to toss a love interest into the book. What I knew for certain was the character of Sam Harper was going to be 3-D. To me, that meant allowing him to feel a wide range of emotions; everything from fear, anger, and suspicion to love and desire. I didn’t want Harper to be just another cop on the beat or have crime be his only focus.

In real life we have work environments and home; family and friends. They all tug at our time and vie for our attention. When interests collide, there’s friction. Add love to the mix and your world does a flip-flop. Why? Because sexual attraction happens—thank God, but it’s seldom expected, rarely convenient and not always smart.

So just how much romance is acceptable in a crime novel? In my estimation, enough to add to the plot without taking it over. Enough to add conflict, especially if the love interest turns out to be deadly attraction. Enough to keep the pages turning and the plot moving toward a tight ending.

After reading SILENCED CRY a reader wrote to say that one of the things she enjoyed about the book was the way I handled the “sex scenes.” She went on to say that although she thoroughly loved the sexual tension between the thirty-two-year-old homicide detective, Sam Harper and one of the other characters, she was pleased with the lack of graphic sex scenes in the book. So where’s the tension, you ask? In Harper’s head -- his thoughts, his body language, the way he looks at her, what he dwells on. We experience it through his eyes, his fear to commit, and his curiosity about her intensions. The insinuation of an attraction is there, but the details are left to the reader’s imagination.

Old fashioned you say? I don't think so. The truth of the matter is, we’ve been so desensitized by movies and television, we sometimes forget that the best arousal is in the mind. Give the reader a hint of romance, the right mood, and she’ll draw from her own experiences and desires and will probably imagine a far more erotic scene than I could get away with in this series.

* * *
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. S ILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons (special price now), Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

Join the Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series Fan Club

Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival
Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Look for THE DEVIL CAN WAIT November 2008.

When Life Hands You Lemons

What should you do if your novel receives bad reviews?

A) Nothing. Critics are stupid, jealous, and uneducated. What do they know about brilliant writing, anyway?

B) Flame the reviewers on Amazon, and then threaten them with lawsuits if they blog about your reaction.

C) Commit seppuku (ritual suicide). Your career is over.

D) Create a video that celebrates the universal hatred of your novel with family and friends. Post it on YouTube for all the world to share.