Friday, October 31, 2008

Meet Harry Hughes

© Harry Hughes 2008 all rights reserved

Murder By 4 welcomes Harry Hughes, author of THE BAIT SHACK ~ Released this week by BeWrite Books (UK).

THE BAIT SHACK certainly qualifies as a mystery tale, but the book spills somewhat over the boundaries of that particular genre. The protagonists, Dale Cooles and Lacy Chamblet, are struggling to keep their tenuous marriage afloat while living like indentured servants to Lacy’s unscrupulous employer Henry Meredith, an extremely wealthy real estate baron of the Hamptons on eastern Long Island. Much of the book focuses on this aspect of the plot. However, like oil oozing slowly up from the ground, it becomes increasingly evident that a number of disenfranchised women, who had worked for Meredith in the past, met their demise at the hands of a shockingly perverse serial killer. Incrementally, Lacy realizes that she may be next in line and herein lies the suspense. This quick synopsis opens the door for a brief comment about subplots.

There exist in print many great mystery novels with a single plotline that burns like a laser through the reader’s imagination. Books with multiple plotlines can expand the breadth of a story, adding dimensions with which to keep the reader’s mind shuttling back and forth across the court to greet the writer’s serve. But including subplots to a story can also be tricky. They only work if the author can tie them together in a credible way. Contrived resolutions and a last recourse to deus ex machina will sink what otherwise may have been a fine piece of work.

What follows is a word about irony. Author Thomas McGuane once suggested that any novel of the American west in which the story unfolds in modern times is subject to a lack of vitality unless infused with irony. I tend to believe that the modern mystery tale is vulnerable to the same fate if not accompanied by a healthy dose of both irony and perhaps irreverence (what I refer to as the two eyes). Thus, THE BAIT SHACK is as humorous as it is suspenseful, what with the underachieving but well-meaning Dale fumbling his way through a shaky relationship with Lacy, who in turn is attempting to juggle the consequences of her husband’s social blunders and the accumulating clues of what might be an impending murder, her own. Irony is a literary device capable of ushering humor into a story without having to resort to one-liners and clever punch lines. And while there is nothing wrong with one-liners and clever punch lines, sustainable humor requires a backdrop of irony. Certainly, everyday life offers up a steaming bowl of it for writers to sink their spoons into.

What is conspicuously absent from THE BAIT SHACK is any take on the supernatural. The two villains who provide an all too palpable sense of menace and who push the plot along are distinctly unalike. Yet both are sufficiently cunning and spooky to preclude invocation of the otherworldly. A fine line separates the traditional ghost and mystery stories. Any attempt to abolish that line in this book would have resulted in a deeply flawed plot.
* * *

Author Harry Hughes is a veteran of both the Viet Nam War and the Woodstock Festival. He is an award-winning songwriter and Associate Professor of Psychology. Seven years of his life is documented in the National Book Critics Circle Award nominated book, HOMEFIRES by Donald Katz (Harper Collins Press, 1992). After being published in multiple professional science journals, Harry’s first short story, A RIVER TOO DISTANT, was published along with works by Edward Albee and Joseph Heller, in Hampton Shorts, Vol.3, 1998. His debut novel, THE BAIT SHACK, has been published by BeWrite Books and is scheduled to be released on October 28, 2008. A native Manhattanite, Harry now lives in Utah. His website is

Thursday, October 30, 2008

In honor of NanoWriMo

"The act of writing
bears something in common
with the act of love.

The writer,
at this most productive moment,
just flows.

He gives of that which is uniquely himself,
he makes himself naked.
Recording his nakedness in the written word.

Herein lies some of the terror
which frequently
freezes a writer. “
--Sidney M. Jourard

When I decided to sit down and write my blog post for today, I considered what I could write about that would be meaningful and helpful. It occurred to me that many writers out there get so focused on the highway leading to publication that they forget to enjoy the scenery along the way.

I have always wanted to go to Ireland and Scotland. I do not know why, maybe it is in my blood. But, after saving for so long to make the trip, I will savor every blessed moment of it once I embark. Why do we not enjoy our writing journey in the same way? Is this not the best part of our day? Is this not the one thing that we can do that makes us unique from our spouses, our neighbors, our friends?

We write because we love it. We write because we must. Our creativity won’t let us sleep at night-it gives us heartburn as we chew the words and throw them out on the page.

But we do not have to be afraid of writing from our heart, even if no one ever reads what we have written. Enjoy your writing, drop kick your muse to the street today and let go! Free yourself from the worries and wonders of whether your characters will ever see themselves between the pages of a book, or even on an e-reader screen, and just let them tell their story.

You may find that writing from your heart, forgetting the other aspects of writing, moves you into a whole new realm of possibilities.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Five Days and Counting ...

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

... to the launch.
November 3
Book two in the Sam Harper series

I don't know about you, but long after the novel is written, edited, and is put through a rigorous proofreading by several people including my trusted critiquers, my publisher and 2-3 editors, I worry and begin to second-guess myself. You know, What if I change that sentence to read like this? Does this chapter drag? Is the dialogue ... should I ... Maybe I could ... Eventually I stop, but the questions seem to go on and on. Please tell me I'm not alone!

I guess if asked what it feels like to pour my heart and soul into a manuscript and then wait for reader reaction I'd have to respond with this: Think back to your first school dance. Remember the butterflies and the pent up excitement knowing you were going to have the best time of your life, only to have the euphoric feeling shattered by the dreaded thought,

“What if no one asks me to dance?”

Okay, so maybe it's not that nerve-wracking, but I dare say that most authors do catch themselves holding their breath just bit until the reviews start flowing in. The magic in my neck of the woods started to happen over the past several days with this review written by Lynn Pritchett, Media Inc., Contributing Writer:

“Is it prophecy fulfilled or selfishness, greed, and bad choices? . . THE DEVIL CAN WAIT is a suspenseful freight train of action . . . Can the Devil really wait? . . . If you read one book this season make it THE DEVIL CAN WAIT . . . reminiscent of . . .”

Please do leave Lynn a comment!

* * *

November 3, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-905202-86-7
Bewrite Books (UK)
Paperback: 316 pages

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense.
Pre-order an autographed copy of THE DEVIL CAN WAIT at

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

Monday, October 27, 2008

Farewell to Tony Hillerman

1925 - 2008

The Associated Press

Monday, October 27, 2008; 1:57 AM

PHOENIX -- Tony Hillerman, author of the acclaimed Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels and creator of two of the unlikeliest of literary heroes _ Navajo police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee died Sunday of pulmonary failure. He was 83.

Hillerman's daughter, Anne Hillerman, said her father's health had been declining in the last couple years and that he was at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque when he died at about 3 p.m.

Hillerman lived through two heart attacks and surgeries for prostate and bladder cancer. He kept tapping at his keyboard even as his eyes began to dim, as his hearing faded, as rheumatoid arthritis turned his hands into claws.

"I'm getting old," he declared in 2002, "but I still like to write."

Anne Hillerman said Sunday that her father was a born storyteller.

"He had such a wonderful, wonderful curiosity about the world," she said. "He could take little details and bring them to life, not just in his books, but in conversation, too."

Lt. Joe Leaphorn, introduced in "The Blessing Way" in 1970, was an experienced police officer who understood, but did not share, his people's traditional belief in a rich spirit world. Officer Jim Chee, introduced in "People of Darkness" in 1978, was a younger officer studying to become a "hathaali" Navajo for "shaman."

Together, they struggled daily to bridge the cultural divide between the dominant Anglo society and the impoverished people who call themselves the Dineh.

Hillerman's commercial breakthrough was "Skinwalkers, " published in 1987 the first time he put both characters and their divergent world views in the same book. It sold 430,000 hardcover copies, paving the way for "A Thief of Time," which made several best seller lists. In all, he wrote 18 books in the Navajo series, the most recent titled "The Shape Shifter."

Each is characterized by an unadorned writing style, intricate plotting, memorable characterization and vivid descriptions of Indian rituals and of the vast plateau of the Navajo reservation in the Four Corners region of the Southwest.

The most acclaimed of them, including "Talking God" and "The Coyote Waits," are subtle explorations of human nature and the conflict between cultural assimilation and the pull of the old ways."

I want Americans to stop thinking of Navajos as primitive persons, to understand that they are sophisticated and complicated," Hillerman once said.

Occasionally, he was accused of exploiting his knowledge of Navajo culture for personal gain, but in 1987, the Navajo Tribal Council honored him with its Special Friend of the Dineh award. He took greater pride in that, he often said, than in the many awards bestowed by his peers, including the Golden Spur Award from Western Writers of America and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, which elected him its president.

Hollywood was less kind to Hillerman. Its adaptation of his 1981 novel, "Dark Wind," with Lou Diamond Phillips and Fred Ward regrettably cast as Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, was a bomb.

Although Hillerman was best-known for the Navajo series, he wrote more than 30 books, including a novel for young people; the memoir, "Seldom Disappointed" ; and books on the history and natural beauty of his beloved Southwest.

"Those places that stir me are empty and lonely," he wrote in "The Spell of New Mexico," a collection of his essays. "They invoke a sense of both space and strangeness, and all have about them a sort of fierce inhospitality."

He also edited or contributed to more than a dozen other books including crime and history anthologies and books on the craft of writing.

Born May 27, 1925, in Sacred Heart, Okla., population 50, Tony Hillerman was the son of August and Lucy Grove Hillerman. They were farmers who also ran a small store. It was there that young Tony listened spellbound to locals who gathered to tell their stories.

The teacher at Sacred Heart's one-room school house was rumored to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, so Tony's parents sent him and his brother, Barney, to St. Mary's Academy, a school for Potawatomie Indian girls near Asher, Okla. It was at St. Mary's that he developed a lifelong respect for Indian culture and an appreciation of what it means to be an outsider in your own land.

In 1943, he interrupted his education at the University of Oklahoma to join the Army. He lugged his mortar ashore at D-Day with the 103rd Infantry Division and was severely wounded in battle at Alsace, France. He returned from Europe a genuine war hero with a Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, temporary blindness and two shattered legs that never stopped causing him pain.

He returned to the university for his degree and, in 1948, married Marie Unzer. Together, they raised six children, five of them adopted.

As a young man, he farmed, drove a truck, toiled as an oil field roughneck and worked as a reporter and editor for the Borger News-Herald in Borger, Texas; the Morning Press-Constitution in Lawton, Okla.; United Press International in Oklahoma City; and the Santa Fe New Mexican, where he rose to executive editor. He quit in 1962 to earn a master's degree from the University of New Mexico, where he later taught journalism and eventually became chairman of the journalism department. In 1993, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.

Hillerman was still teaching when he wrote his first novel, "Blessing Way." A story that always made him chuckle: His first agent advised him that if he wanted to get published, he would have to "get rid of that Indian stuff."

Hillerman is survived by his wife, Marie, and their six children. Services are pending.

Associated Press Writer Bruce DeSilva contributed to this report.http://www.washingt wp-dyn/content/ article/2008/ 10/27/AR20081027 00052.html? hpid=moreheadlin es

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who's That Knocking?

copyright, 2008, Aaron Paul Lazar

Good morning, friends and writers!

It's been a long week. I've gone 11 days now with unresolved headaches, unable to write, focus, or get relief. I want my Advil back (seems like such a simple wish, doesn't it?), but the doc says it's not good long term, and he's trying other options. Now I need to go back to a headache specialist, who really didn't help me 9 years ago. Sigh.

Anyway, I will survive. I always do! The doc and I just made a compromise. I can take the Advil until I see the specialist. So, as of noon today, the headache miraculously vanished after I popped those two beautiful little liquid Advil gel caps. Ahhh... It feels good to be able to focus and think again! I'll just conveniently ignore the fact right now that I might be eating holes in my stomach or that my kidneys could fail in ten years. Yuk.

How was your week? Were you able to get much writing done?

I posted the following piece a long time ago. I think about 12 people read it. LOL. So, since it's getting close to Halloween, and also since I'll be away next week, I thought I'd dust it off and share it with you today. Let me know if it gives you a chuckle or a thrill.

Living in an antique home has its problems, especially when you're not a handyman. My father taught me all sorts of wonderful things when he was alive, including unbridled passion for the arts, gardening, nature, gourmet cooking, and the love of a good mystery. He didn't know much about mechanical, plumbing, electric, or woodworking skills. Though I've tried to learn over the years with self-help books and advice from friends, I remain singularly unhandy, perpetually bowing with an unholy need to the whims of the local plumber and electrician.

Take, for example, the twenty-six windows that are crumbling as we speak. The six by nine inch panes are coming loose from their wooden mullions with alarming frequency. Or the floorboards in the bedroom, a lovely old yellow pine, that poke up like teepees when it's hot and muggy. Yeah, they need to be treated with some kind of poly something-or-other, but for now, the moisture makes them swell. Consider the two wells that sometimes work in concert - except for the hundred times a year I have to run down to the cobwebbed cellar and reset the breakers or tap on the pump to make it work. The disadvantages are many.

But there are also great benefits, such as the three working fireplaces. Or the soil that surrounds the property, rich and black, untouched by bulldozers. It's not like the hard packed fill they put in the new housing tracts. I don't need to "amend" this soil. I just need to keep up with the produce and flowers.

Most intriguing of all, however, is the rich history.

Our house was built in 1811 by Dr. David Hunt.

Okay, so compared to the homes in Europe, it's just an infant. But in terms of our country and its young age, it's amazing. Think about it. This house was built and lived in more than fifty years before the civil war!

Imagine the births, deaths, dramas, romances, and heartaches that occurred within these rooms. Did the inhabitants suffer from small pox? Starvation? Were they affluent? How many horses or cows did they own? And... how many ghosts linger in these plaster and lathe walls?

Let's examine the past 100 years. According to an elderly neighbor, over seven people have died on Hunts Corners. Traffic accidents. Maybe even horse and buggy accidents. Auto drivers not stopping for the all-way stop signs, or sliding on ice, or drunk drivers plowing right into the telephone pole. Sad to think about. Makes you wonder about their spirits. Did they ascend to Heaven? Or do a few guilty souls remain in the area, confused and wandering, seeking the path to redemption?

Recently, I began to ponder another death disclosed to me by a young neighbor friend. We began to correspond after he read a few of my books. He's a bright and entertaining young fellow who happens to be a voracious reader. We clicked. And we chat back and forth about books and life and sometimes... about the history of our area.

It seems Hunts Corners has a mystery all its own, stemming from the early 1900s. As the story goes, my young neighbor's great grandmother noticed something odd one day. While going about her daily duties, Mabel realized she hadn't seen the young girl who lived next door in a long time. Anna no longer attended school, and very rarely made an appearance outside the home. When she did, Mabel noticed a thickening in her middle, well-wrapped by heavy garments. She suspected the girl was with child. In that era, a pregnancy out of wedlock was unthinkable. Shameful. A sin. The family would endure public humiliation if news got out. So Anna was sequestered for nine long months as Mabel watched the child grow in her belly.

When the time came for the baby to be born, there was no activity in the house. No child was seen. No doctor arrived. All was quiet.

Speculation grew. Was the child stillborn? Or worse, was she murdered by a family cloaked in shame? Rumors were that the little baby was buried behind Anna's house.

Since then, there have been reports of children pointing behind the house, exclaiming about the "little girl in the weeds." The adults couldn't see her.

But I think I might have, last winter.

I rose early to photograph our Christmas lights. They were unusually festive last year, better than all past years. We'd added a few lighted deer for fun, and I was bound and determined to capture the beauty in the blackest of night. It was a clear, chill morning. Five A.M. Not a breeze stirred. Most households were fast asleep. Few cars passed by.

I brought my trusty Canon Powershot outdoors and took dozens of photos. Later, when I viewed them on my PC, I saw the ghost. There she was - looking straight at me with wide open eyes. Filmy, transparent, but with a clear face and body. Only two shots revealed her, although I took dozens that morning.

The photos are untouched, straight from the camera card. And yes, I know there's probably a scientific explanation. Maybe the light from the flash illuminated ice crystals in the air, causing a momentary illusion. But I'd like to ignore that for now and just consider it a visit from my friendly little ghost.

Last night I woke to a tapping sound. Usually it's Max, on his chair, scratching an itch and thumping up against the armrest. I rose to check, but he lay still, mouth open, breathing evenly.
Could it be my grandson knocking on the door? I looked. No one was there. All was quiet, no little boys or cats were hoping to gain entrance.

I went back to bed. The tapping resumed. Looking out the window, I noticed headlights flashing by, briefly illuminating the darkness. Was that a flash of white? A face? Or simply the reflection on wet streets?

The tapping resumed. Outside my window. On the second floor.

Could it be?

I buried my head beneath the covers and said my prayers.

Well, that's it for now, dear friends. I won't be around next weekend, so let's get together in two weeks, and until then, remember to take pleasure in the little things, and if you love to write, write like the wind!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Learn How to Promote Your Books Online ...

© Dorothy Thompson 2008 all rights reserved

... to Keep Them on Bookstore Shelves

I want to thank Marta for inviting me here today to talk to you about promoting your books online.

Promoting online requires a lot of work on the author’s part, but the advantages so outweigh the few hours a day you should put into this. For the print-on-demand or self-published author, it’s their lifeline to selling books, but to the mainstream published author – you know the one with the advances and the distribution we all dream about – online book promotion can actually keep those books on the shelves for as long as they continue to use this approach to sell their books.

I had a client email me a few days ago upset that if he did not make those sales by a certain month, the publisher would have no choice but to pull the book. The book seller was on his back and was forced to let him know that this will be the case if he does not sell more books than he was doing.

My client was quite upset to the point where he was willing to try anything to sell his book and a virtual book tour was his best option at this point.

What I’m finding is that there are quite a few mainstream published authors who aren’t aware how powerful online book promotion truly is. The print-on-demand and self-published authors already know this, but for the mainstream published authors, selling their books in bricks-and-mortar stores becomes top priority. Of course, this is a good thing but what if your competition is fierce? What if there are lots of other books similar to yours? What if the economy worsens and, god forbid, no one wants to make that special trip to a book store to buy your book out of the thousands to choose from?

So much pressure. And I feel sorry for them, I truly do, but this is what I tell them.

Create an online awareness and grab those thousands of Internet users who surf for online purchases every day. It’s a gold mine out there, folks. Create a blog. Write articles. Query bloggers to interview you or let you write a guest post in exchange for a free book. Join social networks. Learn how to network with fellow authors and readers.

And, lastly, put your book on virtual book tour. You can do this yourself or you can hire us to do it for you, but whatever you choose, you won’t ever regret the experience and, yes, it will sell books for you. My client has reported increases in Amazon sales and website hits, so the potential is there for everyone.

Stop worrying and hit the blogosphere with news about your book. Creating an enormous online presence should be your # 1 goal to sell that book. Do it before it’s too late.

* * *

Dorothy Thompson is CEO/Founder of Pump Up Your Book Promotion. You can visit her website at Sign up for her FREE newsletter or comment on her clients’ blog stops to win a free virtual book tour or $50 Amazon gift certificate each month!

"We take books to the virtual level!"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's Your Challenge?

© Marta Stephens, 2008 all rights reserved

My darling girl ... when are you going to understand that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage. ~Aunt France, Practical Magic

Aside from being one of my favorite and fun movies, I think this quote from Practical Magic applies to every aspect of writing. Let's face it, we writers aren’t necessarily “normal” and it does take courage to expose our inner soul to the world.

For those not familiar with my work, I write crime mystery/suspense and up until a few years ago, my work was something I shared only with family and friends. Close friends. People who love me; in whose eyes I can do no wrong. It was a safe place to be, but a little voice in the back of my head nudged me forward. I expanded my circle to include an amazing group of talented fellow authors -- the real test of endurance. It wasn’t long before my writing evolved from a pastime, to a passion, and now an addiction. A good addiction because perseverance has led to the release of the second book in my Sam Harper series, “The Devil Can Wait” on November 3. So to those who wonder if your dream of becoming a published author is realistic, it is. Just keep at it.

What keeps me going? The challenge to top my previous attempt; to write a better book, develop a smarter marketing campaign, create an attention-grabbing book trailer and a captivating cover. Why? Because once a writer is published, he or she becomes a public figure and anything less than the best is a step in the wrong direction.

Maybe I am obsessed, as a few special friends “affectionately” dare to call me (admit it, you have). Do I hit my mark every time? No, of course not. No one does, but unless we try, unless we ask the questions and charter a new path, we’ll never know our full potential. So crawl out of the comfort zone and feel the edge of an uncharted road beneath your feet and see where it leads.
* * *
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are 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.
THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (November 3, 2008)

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

Monday, October 20, 2008

Warren Adler: The Idea

Murder by 4 extends a warm welcome to Warren Adler, a world-renowned novelist, short story writer and playwright.

Warren's books have been translated into more than 25 languages and two of his novels, The War of the Roses and Random Hearts, have been made into enormously popular movies, shown continually throughout the world. Three short stories from his acclaimed collection The Sunset Gang have been adapted as a trilogy and shown on Public Television stations. The Overlook Press will publish a new novel, his 29th, in Spring 2008, and his fifth short story collection, New York Echoes will be published in late Winter of 2008 by Stonehouse Press. His play Libido is scheduled for an off-Broadway production in 2008. His stage adaptation of the novel The War of the Roses is currently being produced in Italy, Berlin, Hamburg, Prague and countries in Scandinavia.
As a novelist, Mr. Adler's themes deal primarily with intimate human relationships—the mysterious nature of love and attraction, the fragile relationships between husbands and wives and parents and children, the corrupting power of money, the aging process and how families cling together when challenged by the outside world. Readers and reviewers have cited his books for their insight and wisdom in presenting and deciphering the complexities of contemporary life.

Welcome, Mr. Adler.

The Idea

all rights reserved, Warren Adler, copyright 2008
I get my ideas from “everywhere.” It is, in many ways, a highly enigmatic and unsatisfactory answer. Perhaps I have trained my mind to seek out ideas for stories. Whether I am aware of it or not my antenna is always spinning. I seem to be on a perpetual search. This search takes me on multiple paths. I observe and listen to people. I read other novels and stories. I am tuned in to everything happening around me, the news of the day, the gossip, the conversations, arguments, opinions, words, images. Remember the play I Am a Camera? Indeed, if you want to tell stories, to write novels, you had better be a camera equipped with audio.

By some mysterious process, I glom on to situations, characters, imaginings, plots, what-ifs. It is a cacophony of sounds, colors, dialogue, observations and comparisons. Everything around me is part of a story. I suppose the mind processes this information into words, descriptions, conversations, organizes them into a story form, a beginning, middle and end. A novelist in his or her search for a story will throw their own experiences and memories into the mix of ideas, combine them with the immediacy of the surrounding world.

All lives are essentially narratives. The novelist cherry picks from what he or she sees and observes in their inner world and the outer world fueled by their sensory perceptions. Perhaps I am getting obscure, overwhelmed by an attempt to answer what is probably unanswerable. Sometimes I am amazed by what triggers a story in a writer’s mind. But suddenly the antenna focuses, magnifies, zeros in and an idea is born.

I can remember most of the “eureka” moments that triggered an idea that became a novel. A conversation with a friend in a London pub who had served as a British diplomat in China and had taken the regular mail run from Peking to Mongolia by train on a rail leg of the Trans-Siberian Express became the novel of the same name. A conversation with an Estonian Baron suggested my novel Blood Ties. Meeting a female detective in Washington became my “Fiona” series of mystery novels. A conversation at a dinner party with a man who was living with his hated wife while they were getting divorced became The War of the Roses. A funeral triggered the idea for Children of the Roses. It goes on an on.

I am convinced that a novelist must consciously train his or her mind to seek out stories. I know this could be a hard idea to grasp, but the true storyteller will know exactly what I mean. Note I have not gone into the phenomenon of writer’s block. Perhaps it comes from the sudden unwillingness of the mind to find the story channel in the brain. Patience will often recycle the process again like a computer that freezes and has to be shut down and restarted. Who knows?
Whether or not all this explanation answers the question of where a novelist gets his or her ideas is moot. I can only hope that it conveys what mental gymnastics are required to find an idea, flesh it out with research or further observation and embark on the hazardous journey of creating a novel out of the idea.

One thing is certain. Every novel begins with an idea. The idea becomes a commitment and expands outward, like the old cliché of the pebble in the pond. Characters are created to embellish the idea. A plot is constructed to move the idea to a resolution, a climax. In my case, I can never be certain of this resolution. In fact I would rather not know since, I, too, am curious about what happens next. One of my novelist friends tells me that if he knew how his story would end, he would not begin to write it.

Warren Adler is the author of 30 novels, including The War of the Roses and his latest, Funny Boys.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Newsletters - Communicating with Readers

(taken during drive to work this week before the sun came up)

Hello, friends and writers.

I hope this week has been good to you. Have you been able to write a lot? Or have you just soaked up life as you darted from project to project? Either phase is an important part of writing. Whether you're pounding out the chapters, or absorbing the beauty of the fall landscape that will later become a backdrop to your next love, chase, or murder scene - it's all part of the process, isn't it?

I've been babysitting my dear infant granddaughter overnight for the past four days. Wow. I forgot how hard it is to get up at 4-5 o'clock for bottle feedings! Wait a minute. My wife breast fed, so I never HAD that memory to recall!

She spoiled me. I helped in all the waking hours before and after work, but Dale always took care of our three girls overnight. Anway, I'm falling head over heels for my little Isabella. What a doll she is.

We also had a lovely but too short visit with Melanie, who came home from Cambridge for the weekend. Poor kid, I couldn't stop hugging her. ;o) We had lots of walks in the woods and some memorable meals together. Such good times. And of course, good fodder for future scenes in my LeGarde Mysteries. (grin)
In addition, like many of you, I've been reeling from the beauty of the autumn landscapes here in upstate New York. I don't recall a season this rich in color in many years. It's just overwhelmingly beautiful. Calendar beautiful. Knock-you-senseless beautiful. Know what I mean? The apples are clustered thick on the trees, just begging you to bite into them.

(see that layer of fog in the distance? It's hovering over the Genesee River)

Okay, now on to literary business.

I thought we might talk about communicating with one's readers via newsletters today. Dean Koontz regularly sends out a print newsletter from his dearly departed dog, Trixie. It's filled with tidbits about Dean's new books and observations from Trixie, from the great beyond. It's a common practice, and a wonderful way to share the latest scoop in an author's world.

And I, your humble mystery addict, send out the LeGarde Mysteries Newsletter via email just about every quarter. Or, when something particularly "newsworthy" comes along, such as a new book release. I like to include family news as well as literary news, since when folks read my books, they often like to hear about the whole package. And if they don't - well, they can always skip ahead! Ha. (if you'd like to sign up for the newsletter, just email me at and put "newsletter" in the subject line.)

Newsletters are a wonderful way to stay connected with your readers. Not a published author? Not a problem. I'll bet you have friends, writer's circles, critique partners, and family who DO read your stuff and care about your progress. Right?

Start with them and get into the practice of summarizing your progress on a regular basis. You'll be surprised how much you actually do accomplish in a few short months. (and if you haven't accomplished anything, don't be too hard on yourself. Roll up your sleeves and make a new plan!) Of course, be sure to ask if your subscribers want to hear from you (you don't want to be a nuisance!). And provide a little note at the bottom of your newsletter to let them know how to unsubscribe if they get sick of you!

Once you become published, provide a sign up sheet at your book signings so you can stay in touch with folks who buy your books. If you receive mail from your readers, politely ask if they'd like to subscribe to the newsletter. And add a link to your website so it's easy for them to sign up.

As an example, today I'd like to share the newsletter we just issued for our Murder by 4 blog. As you all know, it's not just about mysteries. This is a blog for readers and writers of all sorts. SW Vaughn blogs on Tuesdays, Marta Stephens posts on Wednesdays, Kim Smith shares on Thursdays, and I chose Sundays. We also feature guest bloggers twice a week (Mondays and Fridays) and have had a wealth of guests, from publishers to editors to world famous authors. Matter of fact, check us out tomorrow, October 20th, when renowned author Warren Adler stops in to treat us to a piece about where his ideas come from!

So, whether you are a published author, or just starting to stir up interest in what will soon become your best seller, consider newsletters as a powferful vehicle to stay in touch with your readers. Here's our current newsletter - and please be sure to comment if you have time on the newsletter blog. We LOVE comments!

Murder by 4 Newsletter

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Another Stinkin' Book Trailer

It seems everyone has a book trailer these days. So I figured, why not me?

I actually created a trailer for my novel Broken Angel a year ago, but I wasn't happy with it and resolved to make a better one. I've finally gotten around to doing it.

Here's hoping it's better than the first try.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Interview with Peggy Ehrhart

by Kim Smith copyright 2008

Interview with Peggy Ehrhart

Tell us a little about your latest novel and when and where we can get it.

SWEET MAN IS GONE is a cozy with a twist. The book is about a dead guitar player and a Manhattan bar band, so the setting isn’t the typical cozy setting. But SWEET MAN IS GONE features an amateur sleuth, sexy blonde blues-singer Maxx Maxwell, and, as is frequently the case in cozies, the main emphasis is on the suspects and their motives. I tried to make things as puzzling as possible, with a real surprise when the killer is revealed at the end. There’s no explicit violence--or sex, for that matter, even though my sleuth can’t help her hopeless attraction to guitar players. That’s why she gets involved in solving the crime. Not only was the murdered guitar player essential to her band’s success, but she had a hopeless crush on him.

SWEET MAN IS GONE came out in late summer 2008. It’s available on Amazon and, and in libraries--also selected bookstores. My press, Five Star, markets primarily to libraries, and the books are very attractive and sturdy. I got a very good review from Kirkus, and that’s really helping the library sales.

How do you balance the creative process of writing with the demands of public appearances, maintenance of your website, and your family?

I need to really concentrate when I’m writing, and book promotion definitely works against that. Now that my book is out and I’m learning how demanding promotion can be, I’m settling into a pattern where I focus on writing some days and promotion other days. My son is grown up, so I don’t have the family demands that I had earlier, but there are certain things that I refuse to sacrifice. I’m quite domestic and I love cooking dinner for my husband and me every night. It takes a lot of time, but it’s a ritual that we look forward to. We drink wine and talk about our day. And most writers will tell you that, in a sense, they are writing all the time. As I’m cooking, I’m likely to be puzzling out a scene in my mind, so when I sit down at the computer the next day, I’m transcribing something that has already taken shape.

Give us an example of a day in the writing life of Peggy Ehrhart. Do you stick to a schedule of X amount of hours writing, editing, answering email, etc.?

An ideal day would be 1) email, 2) errands and exercise, 3) guitar practice, 4) write. My best time of day for thinking is late afternoon, and I can concentrate better when I’ve gotten my other activities out of the way. When I’m really embroiled in a project, the exercise and guitar playing are very fertile creative times, especially if I can fit in a long walk.

About the great ‘rule’ debate: we are told you can’t do this and you can’t write that. But it is stepping outside the lines that gets many authors noticed and eventually published. What are your opinions on the rules?

I don’t like rules and I tend to lose respect for people who use them as a tool for critiquing. The supposed rules weren’t handed down from on high--they developed from a study of good literature. When Aristotle wrote the POETICS, he studied plays that he thought were good and tried to determine what they all had in common. If a book holds the reader’s attention and leaves the reader satisfied, then it has succeeded. If it seems to violate rules, then the rules should be rewritten, not the book.

I am, however, a complete stickler for correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I have a Ph.D. in English Literature, and I taught writing at the college level for 30 years. I think writers should have a mastery of their craft--and that includes mechanics. Of course, if I’m writing dialogue, or creating a voice for a character who wouldn’t use formal English--as is the case with the narrative voice in SWEET MAN IS GONE--then I don’t use formal English.

What music do you listen to when you write?

I don’t listen to music. I need to hear the rhythm of my own sentences in my mind and when there’s music I can’t do that.

Has a song inspired you to write?

The inspiration for SWEET MAN IS GONE came from my own guitar playing. I started taking guitar lessons in midlife because my son was playing and it looked like fun. I’ve always loved the blues, so that was the style I studied. Eventually I formed a band that actually played gigs. I had already written my first mystery (unpublished) at that time, but when the guitar playing started getting more and more exciting for me, I decided to combine the two things and write a mystery about a blues band. But I made my sleuth a singer instead of a guitar player. SWEET MAN IS GONE is named for a wonderful blues tune by Muddy Waters, “Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?,” and it worked out really well for the book. My sleuth’s guitar player sings it in Chapter 1 and by Chapter 2 he’s dead. Now I’m working on the sequel, and I’m casting around for the song that will inform the whole story. I think it’s going to be Robert Johnson’s “When You’ve Got a Good Friend” because the plot has to do with the complicated ways that friendship puts demands on people.

Do you have a favorite show on TV that helps in moving your muse?

Actually I’ve never owned a TV.

If you could collaborate with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Raymond Chandler, because I’d love to have him explain what really happens in THE BIG SLEEP.

What is your thought on promotion for books?

I think the Internet is going to become the main tool. Sadly, brick and mortar bookstores are closing all around us. People shop for books online now, and so what could be more natural than creating an online presence? I’ve had my website for less than a year, but I’m really enjoying the way it lets me create an experience for the visitor that supplements my books. One thing I’ve done is to create the Pie of the Month feature. I linked it with blues through the soul-food angle. My sleuth doesn’t cook because she’s so busy with her band, but I love to cook. Every month I post a new pie on my site--recipe plus photo. I invent the recipes--each is a twist on some old favorite, and they all have links with the blues, starting with “Blues Berry Pie” last July. I get all kinds of emails from people about them. My mother isn’t really up on the Internet, so I print each one out and mail it to her. I spoke with her the other day and she said she had just made the peach one. That was August--“Eat-a-Peach Pie,” named after the Allman Brothers album.

I also want to showcase new blues CDs on my site. I’ve been so busy with other promotion that I haven’t worked on it yet, but it will come. And several years ago I spent some time in Ghana studying West African percussion. I kept a journal that I plan to post on my website in blog form. I went to Africa because that’s where the blues started, so it all ties in together.

What advice do you have for authors who haven’t quite gotten their manuscript to the next level, which for most is publishing?

Never quit. And don’t feel that it will get better the more friends you show it to because it won’t. Each person will tell you something different and if you make all those changes it will become like something written by a committee. The most helpful thing I did was to take mysteries that I thought were effective--not because I especially liked the characters or setting, but because they kept me in suspense the whole time and the ultimate climax was a huge surprise--and I outlined them, tons of them. That’s the most useful thing a would-be writer can do. That way you are making your own personal “rules”--rules that will let you create the kind of book you want to read.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Interview with Shannon Wallace

Since I am away at the Muse Online Writer’s Conference this week, I took the liberty of interviewing my character, Shannon Wallace, as a little insider peek for you friends and fans of the book coming out soon from Red Rose Publishing.

It was a great exercise and I think I learned a bit about Shannon myself.

Tell us a little about your latest escapade and why it ended up in a book?

Oh, that. Well, I have to say that I’ve made a few bad decisions in my life, and this was the outcome of a couple of them. I think I have learned my lesson though. I realize through the writing of this book that friends are friends forever and usually we can do very little to ruin our friendship if we are honest.

How do you balance your work life and personal life?

Well, that would be an easy question except for lately my work life HAS BEEN my personal life. I sort of date my boss. That is not a bad thing though, no matter what anyone says. I mean we are a pretty green couple. We carpool, we brown-bag, and we recycle.

Do you follow a regular routine, or are you a seat of the pants sort of character?

No, unfortunately I am too scrambled in the amount of time I have to do much of a routine. If I get up in time, I might curl my hair. If I have time, I might get on a treadmill. I barely remember to take my vitamins, and brush my teeth most days.

Do you ever lie, cheat, or steal?

Cough, cough. Why? Who has told you to ask that question? I might, but I have to have a pretty good reason for it. Course it might be questionable as to the value of my reasons.

Music soothes the soul, what is your favorite?

Well, if my soul needs soothing, I usually need heavy metal. I mean, I like angry music to soothe me. If I am just casually listening then anything from Celtic to Country will do.

What sort of television show do you like?

I am totally into the comedies and the reality shows. They take my mind off my own troubles.

If you could interview any person living or dead, who would it be and why? What would you ask?

Oh, for sure, I would have to interview my parents. I mean I want to know whatever possessed them to try to outrun a freaking tornado. I mean who does that?? And to tell them thanks for birthing me, even if they did check out of the whole parent plaza way too early in the game.

What is your religious affliation?

I am Christian. What does that look mean? I am! I haven’t been to a real church in a long time, but I believe in Jesus and God and all that. I would be afraid something bad would happen to me if I didn’t. Come to think of it, wonder if that is why my parents were taken up in a dust devil tornado? Did they believe?

Are you registered to vote? What is your party favorite?

I have sort of neglected to vote as I am one of those who really does NOT want to do jury duty. I spend enough time on my own in the police station and at courthouses. I am not up for doing it out of civic duty.

Thanks Shannon for helping me out with my blog post today. I hope you all will join us as we kick off our adventure in the world of Wallace soon in Avenging Angel.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Breaking the "As" Addiction

Murder by 4 extends a warm welcome to Marci Baun, editor of Wild Child Publishing. Since its inception in 1999, Ms. Baun has been in love with the written word beginning with Clifford the Big Red Dog and Curious George. Her reading and interests have expanded since those first books to include history, music, opera, theater, swimming, cycling, nature, travel, and writing. She has written and performed one person shows about historical women in schools, universities and festivals across the state of California and sang with the Coasters and the Drifters, Freddie Hart, as well as on the operatic stage. A few years past, as a member of the Academy for New Musical Theatre, she composed music for a twelve minute musical. When time permits, she hopes to return to the theater. In her other life, she is a stay-at-home mom.

When asked why she began publishing, she replied, “I love the written word. There is nothing as powerful or as beautiful. It can influence, teach, and move us. What an amazing medium!"
copyright 2008 Marci Baun

Addicted to “as”? You are not alone. This addiction is very prevalent among authors these days. (Heck, I’ve been known to show some of that addiction myself. Grin) Sometimes, they are used in similes, but the most common usage is as a conjunction—linking actions. Recently, I’ve had authors complain that they felt they were exchanging one addiction for another (“and” vs. “as”), so I thought I would share other methods to mix things up and not rely strictly on “and” all of the time. While “and” is much more invisible than “as”, it pays to have a full toolbox. Switching out with while, when, once, and after is not the answer. Why? Because this turns you into a while-aholic, once-aholic, after-aholic, or when-aholic, which is just as bad as being an as-aholic.

To rely heavily on any one grammatical device weakens the prose, keeps you contained inside a box that doesn’t really reflect your abilities, and often suppresses any growth you may strive for in your writing. One would hope that the more you write, your prose becomes tighter, your toolbox larger, and your storytelling more compelling. You can’t grow, however, if you aren’t willing to give it up. Besides, with the depth of the English language, why limit yourself to just one device when there are so many to choose from?

You will see “as” used in similes. This is okay, unless the similes are frequent and close together. Any time you overuse a device, your story suffers. (Watch for overuse of “like”, too, as in “like the redolent smell of rose”, etc.) You have to find alternatives. Comparison is great, but there are many ways to make comparisons without actually using a simile.

When working to change the instances of “as”, there are a number of options open to you beyond while, when, once, and after. I have listed just a few below to inspire your own muse into creating new, grammatically correct ways to “show” your story.

Breaking sentences in two:

From: As it opened, frigid air cooled John’s heated flesh.

To: The door swung open. Frigid air cooled John’s heated flesh.

So, you can break the sentences in two. It works for this sentence because the only way John could be struck by the air is if the door opens, and you know when you open a door, the air of either outside or the interior will strike you. This option will work for some, but not others.

Changing “as” to “and”:

From: As it opened, frigid air cooled John’s heated flesh.

To: The door swung open, and frigid air cooled John’s...

This works as well. You won’t want to do this for every sentence.

Rewriting to a modifying phrase:

From: Stephanie’s mouth fell open as she stared at the size of his hands.

To: Stephanie’s mouth fell open, a common reaction to the size of...
You could also use “and” in the place of “as” in this instance. It’s a matter of deciding/making a choice of which you think fits best.

Another modifying phrase example:

From: As a level two initiate, Lorelei wouldn’t even know about the magical spheres...

To: A level two initiate, Lorelei wouldn’t...
Or using a participial phrase (also a modifier):
To: Being a level two initiate, Lorelei wouldn’t…

(Note: Like any other device, participial phrases can run amok, but it's okay if you use them judiciously.)

Another modifying phrase example:

From: Her emotions were always unpredictable, pushed as she was into the darkest edge of
her soul…

To: Her emotions were always unpredictable, the darkest edge of her soul ever present in her life...
Sometimes, it takes rearranging the syntax, like so:

From: She killed in a hot passion of anger as her dark side took over.

To: Her dark side took over, and she killed in a hot...
And finally the prepositional phrase:

This is another example of turning the “as” phrase into a prepositional phrase—“with”, “to”, and so on. Sometimes, it’s as simple as replacing the “as” with “in”, “to”, etc.
From: His voice came out as a whisper.

To: His voice came out in a whisper.

or a complete rewrite

To: He whispered.

Here you have a complete rewrite of the sentence. Simpler can be better.
Another prepositional phrase example that requires a complete revision:

From: She bounced jauntily as she walked away.

To: She walked away with a bounce in her step.

The above examples are just a few possibilities. There are many, many more. You’ll discover that once you start stretching yourself, the addiction lessens and disappears until your writing has grown far beyond the box that originally seemed so comfortable.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Just One of Those Mornings

copyright 2008 Aaron Paul Lazar

It was just one of those mornings.

The day started out fine. I slept well and woke at 4:30 to email a fellow author who’s ghostwriting a book on The Power of Positive Thinking. I’d promised a few examples of my own philosophy. You know, the kind of stuff that is infused with optimism and oozes rhapsodic enthusiasm?

The email was more of a treatise on coping mechanisms, or “How to be happy when the world around you crumbles.” I recommend my ever present philosophy to “take pleasure in the little things” and cited some examples that have helped me in the past, such as soaking in the sunrise or absorbing the winter beauty of a wheat field glistening with ice. If all else fails, I list the things for which I should be thankful, such as: “At least I’m not lying in a ditch in Iraq like our poor, brave soldiers,” or “I’m not riddled with cancer.”

I know. It sounds downright naive. I’ve been called a male “Pollyanna,” before. But heck, it gets me through those tough times and… it actually works!

After writing, I showered, made my lunch, kissed my grandsons goodbye, and slipped into my parka. I fumbled around for my car keys. They were missing! I shrugged, decided to solve the mystery later, and grabbed the spare set. I ventured out into blackness of the early morning and headed for the car. The lights didn’t come on when I opened the door. A sinking feeling settled in my gut. There were my keys, dangling in the ignition, turned to the “ACC” position!

Daughter #3, home from college for a break, retrieved something from the van and apparently turned on the key for some mysterious reason. There they’d remained over the long weekend.

I rummaged around the barn and found a set of cables. Next, I ran back to the car, grabbed a spare key for my mother-in-law’s car, and nosed it into position. In the pitch dark, I felt around for the hood release on my van. Where was that darned lever? I couldn’t find it. I grabbed the flashlight that had been smugly waiting for such an emergency in its holder since last Christmas, and searched again. There was NO latch!

Against every fiber in my being, I admitted that I needed to read the blasted manual. I found it after scrabbling around in the glove compartment. The print was tiny – I needed my cheapo drugstore reading glasses. I keep a pair on my bedside table and at work. I sighed, then remembered a rogue pair that was tucked inside my jacket pocket from my last book signing.

For the next five minutes, I flipped through the deceptive “easy owner’s guide” until I finally found a diagram of the car. There was a hood release, but it looked like it was on the seat bottom. I got on my knees again and searched. I pushed and prodded and pulled everything in sight. I scrutinized the diagram again with fingers covered in grease. Wait a minute! Did I read the diagram wrong? Maybe it’s on the lower left side near the gas tank lever! I dropped to my knees again. There it was, hidden around the corner so that I had to crane my neck inside the car to actually see it.

Good for deterring car thieves; bad for stupid new van owners.

The hood was up. I hooked up one side of the batteries. Red to positive, black to negative. The cables wouldn’t stretch from battery to battery. I needed another measly inch. I sighed, got in the other car, backed it up, and nosed it in closer. So close, that my riotous rose bush caught me each time I squeezed past it. Finally, it was done. The van roared to life.

But alas, it wasn’t over.

Breathe. Just breathe.

The radio flashed the word, “Code” and the clock was blank. A faint memory tickled in my brain… the security system! The salesman gave me a card with a code on it. Where had I stashed it? There it was, in my wallet. The only problem was, I couldn’t read the fine print. I patted my pocket for my glasses. They weren’t there. No, they were stuck on my peanut butter toast. I cleaned them off, reset the code, and headed to work.

I grumbled. Then the sun started to rise. The sun kissed the undersides of clouds that glowed gold, gray, and lavender on the horizon. As I drove north, the rays reached higher, splitting the pale pink fingers of dawn.

I started to feel good again, optimistic about the day, and actually looked forward to reconnecting with my colleagues at work. Then I spied the railroad crossing. I was already late for work, and prayed that I’d get across without having to stop.

The lights flashed and the guardrails came down. I put the car in park and laughed at myself. Out loud. It was a belly laugh. And it felt great.

Ah, the power of positive thinking.

Now, how do I reset that infernal dash clock?


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, October 10, 2008

Write Lofty and Carry a Big Chisel

Like other construction workers, we creators of word worlds own toolboxes filled with necessary implements. We have hooks to hook the reader, glue to glue their attention, a feather or two to tickle their funny bones.

We find nails to nail our points and hammers to hammer them home. We find nuts and bolts to connect our story elements and trowels with which to lay a concrete foundation. And we find pliers for getting the attention of agents and editors, because we all know that task is as difficult and painful as pulling out our own teeth. (Word of caution: Do not use pliers on said agents/editors. They might take offense and refuse to look at your work.)

We need awls and augers (maybe even augurs) to poke holes in our inflated prose, and we need saws to cut away the deadwood. And we definitely need screwdrivers to screw up our courage and we need screwdrivers to drown our sorrows when agents/editors/critics shoot us down again. (A bulletproof vest would also come in handy, but they are too bulky to fit in the box, and besides, they make our clothes fit funny.)

But the most important and versatile tool of all is the chisel. We can use it to knock the chip off our shoulders. Perhaps you're right and agents/editors are idiots who can't recognize good prose. But perhaps they are idiots who can recognize good prose, and you're not writing it yet. (Notice I say you? I, of course, write excellent prose. Agents/editors just don't recognize my good prose when they see it.)

Chisels will help keep criticism and compliments at more than arm's length. Too much criticism can kill creativity; too many compliments may keep us from improving. And we can all improve. A chisel will help pare away verbiage, those superfluous words and elements that blunt the clear lines of our prose. For example, I chiseled away excess from the phrase excess verbiage, since it's redundant. Verbiage by definition is excess.

And a chisel will help us shape our story into a world so vital and inviting readers won't be able to tear themselves away.

So, let's open our toolboxes and get to work

You first.


When the traditional publishers stopped publishing Pat Bertram's favorite type of book -- character and story driven novels that can't easily be slotted into a genre -- she decided to write her own. Bertram's first two novels, More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, will be published later this year by Second Wind Publishing. Bertram's Blog includes posts on all aspects of the literary life from inspiration to editing, from rejection to reward. In addition to Bertram's own essays, this blog regularly welcomes guest contributors to share the stories of their craft.

Bertram's Blog --;
Bertram's Website --

Thursday, October 9, 2008

FIVE Potholes to Avoid on Your Road to Writing Success

by Kim Smith
Potholes are commonplace in the south in winter and spring. They occur due to inclement weather conditions, mostly rain. No matter what they are, they signal worrisome woes on any highway, byway, or road. Literary potholes are no different and when we are on the “Road to Writing a Novel” show up at the worst time, when you cannot swerve around them, and they can hamper your efforts to get somewhere with your writing.

But you can avoid them if you are wise and watchful. Here is a short list of things that will detour your journey:

1. Answering too many emails.

The novel or short story can face power outages if you have more than one email to answer over the course of an hour. Some of the emailers want to chat, some want answers to writing questions, and some want an interview. Taking the time to answer all of these emails and commit to the various requests will make your muse plop down and take a nap.

2. What time did you put down to write?

Your writing was scheduled to begin as soon as you got the kids off to school on Monday, but on Monday your son needed cleats for his ball gear. Then, your husband had a dinner guest coming unexpectedly for Tuesday night, and it was Wednesday before you revisited the calendar. So why hasn’t it gotten underway? Because by now you are mentally anguished and out of resources and cannot write. No wonder! You haven’t put any time aside for you.

3. Let's try this one!

Sometimes "new" ideas come to you and take your mind off the current WIP. It’s okay to do the stop and start thing if you KEEP GOING on the current WIP. Don’t let the idea monster gobble up the idea you are already working on. Put the new ideas on paper and file them for the week after you finished this first draft.

4. Another writer gets a contract and you are eating their dust!

Sometimes when a writer friend of ours hits the jackpot and gets a contract for an agent or publisher, it means the death of our time. We spend an enormous amount of energy either being jealous and not talking to them anymore, or acting like a burr in their sock and wanting to be as close to them as possible to learn as much as we can about the experience. Either way, it is a muse killer and soon our own writing is left behind.

5. Why don't we talk anymore?

When the writing pace decreases, the first place to look is a sagging middle. Most published authors will tell you, it is the middles that will kill writing efforts. My advice to fix a sagging middle or a basic beginning that is going nowhere is to kill someone. Killing off a character will definitely shake things up and get the ball rolling again.

What other things can you think of that will keep your writing on track? Many of you are planning on trying out the NanoWriMo method next month. If you will keep these things in mind, you may find you are more successful than you have ever dreamed of being.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Demons, Curses, and Other Weird Things That Haunt Us

© Marta Stephens, 2008 all rights reserved

One fact few people know about me is that my paternal grandfather, Marcelo Ruggero, was a stage and film actor in Buenos Aires during the 1930s to the mid 1950s. He was a local sensation in his days. By the time I was born, he had long retired, but his stories lived on through my father. I was always particularly drawn to the tales about the strange things that often plagued the crew and actors during certain productions; illnesses, props disappearing, etc.

Actors often say they have to “get into character” in order to not only understand who they are trying to portray but also the character’s motivation. Immersing him- or herself into the role of the character is what ultimately brings the character to life on screen. As a writer, I understand this principle quite well. I talk to my characters more often than not, don’t you?

But what happens when the plot is not of this world? When demons play a supporting role and/or are the focus of attention? Recently, I was talking to a good friend of mine and retired journalist about some of the odd and unexplained things that happened after I submitted THE DEVIL CAN WAIT to my publisher. None of the incidents were life-threatening and individually, each could have easily been brushed off as coincidence. Still, something didn’t feel right and thus I decided to make a list and noticed a pattern begin to form. At every critical stage of production some unexplained occurrence caused a delay making me wonder if someone or something was trying to prevent the inevitable.

My friend listened intently and then had this interesting fact to share with me. “Years ago I was lucky enough to get together with Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and Billy Whitelaw at the close of filming for The Omen. They told me scary yarns about what went wrong on set – and even the destruction of a whole spool of key footage when a light plane was struck by lightning. It seemed Hell itself was on the job, doing all it could to put a spoiler on the famous 666 movie.”

It seems that in many ways I’m not alone, but for now, I'm content in knowing that I hold the winning hand because like it or not, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT will arrive on November 3, 2008, and Homicide Detective Sam Harper is again on the move against a formidable adversary.
* * *
You'll find the blurb, excerpt, updates, and reviews at

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. THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, BeWrite Books (UK) November 3, 2008
SILENCED CRY (2007)Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book FestivalTop Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).

Monday, October 6, 2008


© Libby Fischer Hellmann 2008 all rights reserved

The writers’ strike kept “24” off the air last year. Which means the pent-up demand to see Jack, Chloe, and even Tony is probably at its peak. Happily, quicker than you can say “C-T-U”, the show will be back by the end of November. Because of that, it might be a good time to revisit an essay I originally wrote a couple of years ago.

Where else would you see the Secretary of Defense kidnapped? A tactical warhead bring down Air Force One? A nuclear bomb explode over Los Angeles? “24” has brought us some of the bleakest Doomsday scenarios imaginable, and just as imaginatively, the solutions to those scenarios. Sure the plot machinations can be over the top. Some of the dialogue and characterizations are so lame they’re dead-to-rights funny. And we pretty much know the end of every season before it begins.

Still, “24” is the closest TV comes to the kind of thrillers I’ve always loved. And now that I’m writing suspense thrillers, I enjoy watching how “24” has adapted literary suspense techniques to the screen – on the whole, rather admirably.

First there’s the construct of the show itself. The ticking clock is a staple of suspense, and “24” uses it relentlessly. Each of the season’s “24” episodes is one hour of a day, and each block of the show is book-ended with a digital ticking clock. The use of real-time storytelling creates urgency and tension. We are always aware there’s some kind of deadline approaching, another tried and true technique of suspense. In addition, most scenes end with a sting or a cliff-hanger – another element of suspense -- that makes it impossible to turn away from the show.

In fact, you’ll see very little downtime in “24”. Elmore Leonard says to skip the boring parts, and “24” does. With quick scenes and even quicker cuts, the show whips through each episode like an angry tornado. Still, almost every scene contains conflict, action, or risk. Each minute DOES count. Yet another element of suspense involves stretching time – slowing it down. Curiously, despite—or maybe because of-- its Mach 4 pacing, “24” does just that.

Another way to build suspense is to shift points of view, and “24” does that regularly. We see scenes from Jack Bauer’s perspective, followed by a cut to the other members of the CTU team, their family members, and, most important, the villains. Cutting back and forth between the characters -- and locations -- in real time builds momentum, keeps interest from waning, and allows viewers to invest in the story.

Another hallmark of suspense is to create complications and raise the stakes. “24” doesn’t disappoint. Take Season Four: a train explosion is followed by the kidnapping of the Secretary of Defense. No sooner does Jack rescue him, narrowly avoiding a retaliatory missile strike, when terrorists take control of the country’s nuclear power plants and threaten to cause meltdowns.
You get the idea. “24” loads each episode with more complications than the most challenging diplomatic or international crisis. The CTU team is constantly faced with impossible tasks, risks, and decisions that keep mounting in intensity. Split second timing is often required. High tech problems, such as the inability to get a satellite feed or the lack of internet access, complicate matters more. Every episode milks the opportunity for a worst-case scenario. And then it gets worse. While some of the plot twists strain credibility, it does make for riveting, edge-of-your-seat viewing.

To its credit, the show does try to maintain authenticity. Bad things happen to good people. The fate of Jack’s wife in Season One, for instance. The political demise of President David Palmer in Season Two. Or the warhead that slams into Air Force One in Season Four. These situations help balance some of the more “fantastic” plot points.

In any good thriller, the protagonists are faced with Hobbesian choices and dilemmas for which there is no happy ending. The choices they make not only define their character but add suspense. “24” is rife with chilling dilemmas. Does Erin Driscoll, Jack’s boss, attend to her mentally ill daughter, or does she save the country from a nuclear meltdown? Does Jack track the terrorists or rescue his kidnapped wife? Even the villains have their own dilemmas: does Nina play along with Jack, even though it means delaying her own agenda?

Similarly, a good thriller will make the protagonist struggle to prevail by wits alone. A protagonist becomes more and more isolated as his friends, colleagues, even his tools are progressively stripped away. Ultimately, he faces the enemy alone. “24” depicts that isolation effectively, whether it’s Jack dealing with Nina or Marwan, or President David Palmer confronting his political enemies. We feel their isolation, and we hold our breath waiting for the move that will vanquish the enemy.

The more believable the plot, the more suspenseful it is, and “24”’s subject matter is usually ripped from the headlines. And while not every plot twist is credible, the show gets high marks for its portrayal of the decision making process at high levels of government. The issues the President grapples with during a terrorist threat seem authentic, and while Jack is able to get the President on the phone more than the rest of us, the discussions and choices they make are fascinating. At this level of story-telling, furthermore, there’s a fine line between plot and commentary, and I give the show kudos for not veering into polemics.

All of this confers a degree of authenticity that isn’t usually associated with TV. And this authenticity is backed up with research. The “24” website contains write-ups of the research that’s been done for each episode, and the show hires security consultants, intelligence officials, and even thriller writers to help flesh out story ideas.

For all these reasons, I’ll continue to tune in every Monday this fall to see what’s new with CTU. I’ll revel in the suspense and enjoy every nail-biting obstacle and dilemma that’s foisted upon Jack, his colleagues, and the rest of the free world.

And hey -- if anyone has the DVDs of Season Six, you know where to find me.

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Libby’s Hellmann’s 5th suspense novel, EASY INNOCENCE (Bleak House Books) is a “spin-off” of her award-winning Ellie Foreman series. Libby also edited the acclaimed anthology CHICAGO BLUES. Originally from Washington DC, She has lived in Chicago for 30 years and finds the contrast between the beautiful and the profane in that city a crime writer’s paradise. Libby is the former President of Sisters in Crime, and Midwest Chapter President of MWA. Her next work, a stand-alone thriller called SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE takes place, in part, during the Sixties.