Saturday, February 28, 2009

... And the Winners Are ...

As promised, everyone who posted a comment on our first year's anniversary blog was eligible to win one of several prizes!

And now, without further adu ...

James Goodman - THE DEVIL CAN WAIT by Marta Stephens (paperback)

Maggie Toussaint - THE DEVIL CAN WAIT by Marta Stephens (e-book)

Cheryl Wright - A Sam Harper Crime Mystery series book bag

April - "AVENGING ANGEL" by Kim Smith (e-book)

Meg Westley - TREMOLO CRY OF THE LOON by Aaron Lazar (paperback)

Congratuations to our winners and thank you all for making our big day extra special! We hope the winners will enjoy our books and of course, we'd love to hear from you after you're done reading!

The cover of the THE DEVIL CAN WAIT is up for a "Cover of the Year" award. All who vote are eligible to receive a copy of the winning entry. To vote, please go to Just scroll down until you see the cover. Voting ends April 15. :)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Patricia is the author of 19 plus novels of fiction and at least 4 works of non fiction. Her Thoroughly Southern Mystery series is one of my absolute favorites and I am so honored to have her on Murder by 4 today. kim

When Kim invited me to be a guest on this blog, she suggested that I write about the challenges the mystery genre presents to a writer and how I and others overcome those challenges.

After a day when I had to run seven errands and get my hair cut, what I am more aware of is the biggest challenge facing any writer: how to immerse yourself in your writing while at the same time coping with daily life.

Things like dentist appointments, haircuts, taking the vacuum to be repaired, and buying manure and potting soil don’t fit neatly into a writer’s life, much less getting outside to spread the manure before spring arrives, or repotting the African violets before they all die. I find myself constantly in flux between what I want to be doing—writing—and what I need to be doing (most of the above).

Granted we can postpone some things almost indefinitely, but the temptation for most writers is to postpone writing. “I’ll do it when I finish ______,” we say. But once we finish one set of piddly errands, there’s another set waiting in the wings.

And so today, while I would rather have spent the day working on a novel, I only got to write a couple of hours. But wait! At least I wrote a couple of hours. By doing it first, I achieved the satisfaction of knowing I didn’t spend the whole day on the minutiae of daily living.

Now, at the end of the day, I sit here mulling over what unique challenges the traditional mystery genre presents its writers.

First, of course, we have to keep killing people, and doing it in believable ways for believable reasons. Years ago I vowed never to use a clever method of murder that might inspire a copycat, so I’ve pretty much stuck to blunt instruments, guns, and poison. But finding a good reason for somebody to terminate another person’s life has been harder. I rely heavily on the Seven Deadly Sins. Those provide almost all my motives.

Second, we have to play fair with our readers. Traditional mysteries—those which feature an amateur sleuth and a limited number of suspects—are largely a puzzle for the reader to solve from clues scattered along the way. That means the writer must give enough clues while concealing them in verbiage, lists, action, and off-hand remarks so, hopefully, the reader will miss them altogether. That gives both the reader and the writer the satisfaction of knowing the puzzle has a solution if one can only find it. But this also means that the writer must keep track of clues and red herrings and plant them frequently enough to help the reader along.

Another challenge the mystery genre presents to readers, unfortunately, is that this genre pays probably the most poorly of any writing field. I don’t know if it’s because there are so many of us writing them, or because publishers, like so many academics, feel scorn for the genre even as they continue to make money for the publishers, but a first mystery will probably bring in about half what a first novel will and the increase per book after that is not very much. So my advice to a would-be mystery writer is, either plan to live frugally, keep your day job, or marry well.

On the other hand, writing traditional mysteries is such fun. Plots twist and turn, bizarre characters wander in and out of the plot, there’s enough suspense to titillate without enough gore to disgust. The writer can put in bits of humor, recipes, travelogue, or crafts and find an audience out there willing to give at least one of your books a try. Mysteries readers are always looking for new authors to add to their “favorites” lists. So don’t give up.

Put off your hair cut for one more week and write that next chapter!

Newest books:

DAUGHTER OF DECEIT - ISBN 978-0-06-081983-5 - third in the Family Tree series

THE REMEMBER BOX - first book in Job's Corner Chronicles (reissue) - isbn 978-1-933523-09-5

CARLEY'S SONG - second book in Job's Corner Chronicles (reissue) - isbn 978-1 933523-10-1

WHAT ARE YOU WEARING TO DIE? Final mystery in Thoroughly Southern Series. ISBN 978-0-451-22325-8

SINS OF THE FATHERS - 2nd in Family Tree Mystery series ISBN 978-0-06-081976-7

For information and to order from Barnes & Noble online, visit Patricia

Thanks Patricia for your words of wisdom and for joining us at Mb4 today!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Vocabulary Words and Wealth

How many of you remember when you were in school and the teacher would put up a list of vocabulary words on the board for you to copy down and memorize for the spelling or vocabulary test that week?

She might write the words, tomato, sanguine, unethical, excellent, or any of a zillion others, and we would faithfully learn them and their meanings, week after week. Those words are what we now use to write books! How important are those little exercises to us now? To me, they are very valuable. I learned a lot from vocabulary tests.

Well, why have you stopped? There are still a lot of words and terms that we need to know!

Here is your most important vocabulary list (and definitions!) for this week:

Commercial publisher--purchases the right to publish a manuscript (usually together with other rights, known as subsidiary rights), and pays the author a royalty on sales.

Vanity publisher-- prints and binds a book at the author's sole expense.

Subsidy publisher-- also takes payment from the author to print and bind a book, but contributes a portion of the cost and/or adjunct services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing.

Self-publishing-- like vanity publishing, requires the author to bear the entire cost of publication, and also to handle all marketing, distribution, storage, etc.

When a friend of mine talked about getting a book written and out in the market, he was quick to say he wouldn’t be worrying with editing and all that jazz. I got hives just thinking about what that meant, but I remained mute and let him rattle on. He truly believed that edits were what editors did and therefore not necessary for him to contribute anything. No editor in his or her right mind would take on such a work, although I didn’t point this out. Some folks just do not need to hear everything I have to say. The term “deaf ears” comes to mind.

It is my opinion that he would do well to seek out a vanity publisher. Some of them will print anything if you have the money, including a cookbook. They do not care overmuch for style, composition, grammar, or punctuation. Only the color of your cash is what moves them. If you got the money honey, they got the time.

For the rest of us, if you want a solid publishing contract, with royalties paid to you for your efforts, and a professional editor to aid you, (not write the book for you!) then seek a commercial publisher with a proven track record. Why on earth would you spend the time it takes to write a 300-page novel and not give it the most perfect landing? Believe me, traditional and e book publishers have worked hard to get where they are today. Send your book out into the jungle of publishing with a breath of hope.

Your book will thank you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What Every Author Should Know, but May Never Think to Ask

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

When I chose to write fiction, I became the dutiful student. I was determined to teach myself how to write a well-crafted book--bought every book I could grab on writing prose, characterization, dialogue, action scenes and so much more. I followed blogs, joined in conversation on forums and asked as many questions as I possibly could about writing and the publishing process without sounding like a total newbie. I later studied the art of book promotion and marketing--another important piece of the pie.

This was all well and good, but no one ever said, “Hey, don’t forget the tax man!” In fact, once I decided to blog on this subject, I looked through several of my reference books. I wasn't surprised to see that none of them mention a word about taxes or record keeping.

With April 15 looming in the not so distant horizon, (49 days and counting) I spent this entire past weekend organizing my publishing and personal tax information for our accountant. The subject is still fresh on my mind and thus I thought our readers might be interested to know what else I do when I'm not writing. Please keep in mind that although I've taken a couple of college courses in accounting, I’m not a tax guru or an accounting whiz kid--not by a long shot. I pay good money to an excellent accountant to work the magic for me. But I am organized when it comes to tracking information. Please understand that what I’m about to share is based solely on what has worked for me and what I’ve learned along the way.

First, hire an experienced, trust-worthy accountant. Can’t say enough on this one.

Tax Exempt Status
If you haven't already, check into getting tax exempt status. Visit the IRS, do a search on “tax exempt application” and read up on it. Ask your accountant for information or contact your state’s department of revenue to acquire an application. A tax exempt number will allow you to purchase items without paying taxes on them initially. You will, however, need to record your purchases and pay the tax to your state’s department of revenue either quarterly or annually, depending on how your account is set up.

A tax exempt number is also critical if you plan to sell items at locations other than bookstores where you need to bring your own supply of books (libraries, book clubs, etc.). Why? Because like it or not, Uncle Sam requires us to charge sales tax on the items we sell. In return, we're expected to write a check to our state department of revenue for the amount of sales tax collected throughout the quarter/year.

Track of Expenditures
IMPORTANT: Keep your personal money and your writing revenue/expenditures separate. You'll sleep better at night for it.

Open a checking account to use for the sole purpose of tracking writing related expenditures and revenue. Another good way to track expenditures is to dedicate a credit card for writing expenses. This is critical if you have monthly fees for web server services, pay membership dues online, purchase books, etc., and your invoice will serve as an excellent proof of purchase if you’ve misplaced a receipt.

Set up a file folder and keep every receipt for items purchased relative to writing/publishing. You’ll need the receipts to back up your records in case there are any questions. Print payment acknowledgements when you purchase online. It's better to have more in your file than not enough.

Create a spreadsheet that includes, but is not limited to the following columns:

  • Date of purchase
  • Supplies (pencils to paper and everything in between.)
  • Postage expense
  • Travel expense
  • Meals
  • Books & publications (reference books, writing magazine subscriptions, etc.) Web development (server fees, etc.)
  • Equipment (computers, software, cameras, recording devices, printers, fax, etc.)
    Repairs on equipment (did you need to have that nasty virus removed from your computer? Claim it.)
  • Printing expense (bookmarks, forms, stationary, etc.)
  • Books purchased from your publisher for resale
  • Dues paid
  • Promotional fees
  • Contest fees
  • Clothing expense (Did you buy a new outfit for your book launch signing? It's deductable.)
    Sales incentives (items purchased as giveaway items)
  • Long distance phones bill (radio interviews, calls to your publisher, editor, agent, etc.)
    Workshops & conference fees
  • Misc. (Often one-time expenditures that don't fit neatly into any of the other categories)

You get the idea, right? You may find other categories to add that fit your situation too. Make sure you total each column vertically and horizontally and that your entries match the dates and amounts on your receipts.

Track your donation/giveaway or gifted items.
If you've purchased books, you undoubtedly gave a few away along with posters, book bags, and other items. Be sure to include the quantity of each item and the cost. Books you've mailed for contests should also be included here. You’d be surprised how quickly this adds up. Keep track of them and their cost.

Track Revenue
This includes royalties and any other money collected.

Keep track of books/items you sell to other tax exempt entities.
I sold a few boxes of books in 2008 to a couple of local libraries. The libraries were tax exempt too and will pay the tax due on the purchase of my books directly to the state department of revenue when they submit their quarterly or annual report. I, on the other hand, had to report the dollar amount I received from them for the books under “Exemptions/Deductions” in my annual report to show the sale. Be sure to always keep photo copies of your report and record of payment of taxes due.

If you’re not yet published, keep receipts of any writing related items you purchase; books, conferences, classes, writing magazine subscriptions, workshops, travel—anything that is intended for the purpose of eventually getting published. Once you are published, you’ll be able to claim all past purchases as long as you have the receipts (this per my accountant.).

Even if you have an accountant to figure all the details of your tax return, you still need to present the information to him or her in an orderly manner. No shoe boxes allowed!

So, do you still think your job as a writer is over when you type, “The End?” Think again!

* * *

Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008) SILENCED CRY (2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Where in the World is Your Story?

For me as a writer, the word 'setting' has four letters. It's a dirty word to me - I've always preferred developing characters over setting, and for a long time I tried to cheat my way through actually placing stories in the world.

But now I'm trying to face my writing weaknesses, and setting is a big one for me. There are really only two options when it comes to setting: a real place, or a fictional place. I'll discuss fictional places first.

Some folks believe fantasy writers have it easy when it comes to setting, since a lot of fantasy takes place in a made-up world. The fact is, it's neither easy nor necessarily made up - quite a bit of urban fantasy is set in the real world. But we're talking fictional places for now, so I'll say that world-building is a tough job to get right. The writer has to create a place from scratch, and make it believable enough for readers to think they could be there with the characters.

Same goes for creating fictional towns and cities for non-fantasy. Ask any writer who's made up a town, and they'll probably be able to tell you the lay of the place, who lives where, what's going through the gossip vines, and a myriad details you'll never read about in the actual stories. It's all part of world-building, and it's not a simple matter of saying, "I'll just use New York City, and call it Gotham instead."

Then, there's setting a story in a real place. Here's where writing what you know might be a good place to start - if you set your story in a place you know, whether you've lived there or visited extensively, you'll be able to capture that all-important sense of place.

But what if you want to set your story somewhere in the real world that you've never been? Well, in that case, you've got some work ahead of you. Here are some tips to help you get that "Oh, I've been there!" vibe for your real world settings:

* Do some research. Look up as much information as you can about the town, and the surrounding area. Don't forget to find out things like terrain and geography, climate, typical housing types, and population demographics.

* Google is your friend. Download Google Earth and zoom in on the area you're setting your story in - it will give you real-time photographic maps, right down to the houses, trees, and swimming pools. It's kinda creepy, especially if you look up your address and realize anyone can look at your house online. Here's mine:

* Talk to people who actually live in the area. You don't have to go through the phone book and call random strangers. You can look for people located in your setting through directories for Blogger, LiveJournal and MySpace, and e-mail them. Usually, if you tell a stranger you're writing a book and want to interview them for it, they're more than happy to talk to you. Come up with a list of interview questions and get as many different viewpoints of the area as you can.

Setting encompasses a lot more than street names and weather. If you want to write great fiction, it's important not to neglect your setting. Happy writing!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Let Tom Swift Inform Your Writing

© Carolyn Howard-Johnson 2009 all rights reserved

Ever heard of Tom Swifties?

Maybe you're too young to be familiar with the classic Tom Swift adventures for boys. Or maybe you're a girl who never read a Tom Swift book nor cares to.

Tom Swifties are one-line jokes lampooning the style of Victor Appleton, the author of the original Tom Swift books. People started making jokes about his overuse of adverbs and the unnecessary taglines he wrote into his dialogue. Like the Polish jokes, they were so much fun that a whole series of them became available for pun aficionados. The author of these classics, of course, laughed all the way to the bank. But that's a lesson for one of my marketing seminars, not this article on writing.

Tom Swifties were then. This is now. I haven't dared to go to the new books in the series but I assume that this outdated writing has been eliminated from them.

You'll want to minimize tags and adverbs in your writing, too!

An example from one of the Swift books will suffice to let you know what to watch for. (Thank you to Roy Peter Clark for the example.)

"'Look!' suddenly exclaimed Ned. 'There's the agent now!...I'm going to speak to him!' impulsively declared Ned.'"

Even authors who swear that adverbs are always very, very good things to use and are reluctant to give up their clever taglines can see how, well . . . .awful this is. In fact, I have to reassure people the quotation is real! Some of the writing that comes to the desks of agents and editors looks almost as bad. Here's how you can make sure yours doesn't:

1. Use taglines only when one is necessary for the reader to know who is speaking.
2. Almost always choose "he said" or "she said" over anything too cute, exuberant or wordy like "declared" and "exclaimed."
3. Cut the "ly" words ruthlessly, not only in dialogue tags but everywhere.

You will find specific techniques for strengthening your writing in the process of eliminating adverbs in The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success This book will also give you some computer tricks for making these edits easy. Until then, take Nike's advice and "Just do it!"

* * *

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, award-winning author of The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. The former is the winner of USA Book News "Best Professional Book" award and the Book Publicists of Southern California's coveted Irwin Award. The Frugal Editor is both a USA Book News winner and a Reader Views Literary Award winner and won the New Generation Marketing Award. Learn more at Learn more about editing at

Friday, February 20, 2009

Commitment! Is It Everyone’s Problem?

© Barbara Levenson 2009 all rights reserved

Friends and family continuously ask me why I wanted to write books. What they really mean is when are you going to decide what you want to do when you grow up?

I can understand their curiosity. In the past, most people decided on one career path and stuck to it, sometimes to their disadvantage. Women in particular seemed to grab on to one job fearing to venture down a different road. More recent analysis shows that workers have accepted the fact that we live longer and need not shut the door on new vocations that beckon. For some, this has come through an industry shut down, forcing people to pursue new professions. For others a level of boredom forces them to widen their work options. I put myself in this latter group.

Some years ago, I entered my first campaign for elected office only because I read an article in the local paper. The article said that seven incumbent school board members were unopposed in an upcoming election. All of them were older males with no children in the public schools. I thought this was unfair, so I became the first woman elected to office in Columbus, Ohio.

A few years later after a move to Miami, Florida, I decided that my children were old enough for me to return to school. I took the LSAT’s and went to law school, something I had always wanted to do. That led to a job as a prosecutor. I spent time in the narcotics division, prosecuting drug kingpins and learning to be a litigator. A few years after that, I opened my own law office specializing in criminal defense and civil rights litigation. Eight years after that, my husband suggested that I was looking tired from traveling the country defending clients. “Why don’t you run for election for a judgeship?” Once again, I became a candidate. This was a fascinating experience, meeting voters all over Miami-Dade County, an area larger than some states. What a variety of voices to hear, from the elderly retirees in North Dade County, to farmers in South Dade County, and to those who had given up everything to immigrate to this country.

My new job as a judge filled over a dozen years hearing cases from auto thefts to rapes, from murders to drug sales. The experiences centered around courthouses and jails suggested numerous plots and characters, enough to fill many books. I have always loved to write so it was a natural step into my newest career as an author. I got hooked on writing when I was in grade school and entertained my friends with stories and plays which we could act out. By junior high, friends were begging me for more gruesome thrillers and by high school I was branching out into essays, one which won a contest in our local daily newspaper. Writing began to mean popularity of a sort.

When friends ask the question, why are you writing books, the long answer is that all these other careers led me here. There may be another answer, as well.
Readers who are getting acquainted with Mary Magruder Katz, the protagonist in FATAL FEBRUARY and the mysteries that will follow her life, have noticed Mary’s character flaw. She has a commitment problem. She has been engaged twice before meeting Carlos, her current passion. Even though she wants Carlos in her life, she doesn’t want to commit to forever. This idea of commitment is an underlying theme of FATAL FEBRUARY. Besides Mary’s dilemma, the victim, Gary Yarmouth, has trouble with a monogamous relationship with his wife.

Perhaps my career changes indicate that same problem, although in my case it isn’t a lack of commitment in my personal life, but to a professional life. Or maybe it’s just plain boredom. I wonder if we looked closely at people who we know well, would we find that everyone suffers from some form of lack of commitment? I would love to hear from readers about their own experiences and views. You can contact me through my web site, For right now, I am committed to writing books as long as readers want to read them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Winners and Losers

As I write my post for the week, I am watching American Idol season eight and wondering who will be the lucky winner this year. There are a number of awesome singers! I would hate to be a judge, because sometimes it comes down to a song choice, which is so personal, how can you KNOW that you have selected just the right one?

As I have said a number of times, getting published is a lot like being up on that stage in AI. You throw it all out there and do the best job you can, but ultimately it is up to someone else whether you make it or not. Once you finish the creation phase and the editing phase, and embark on the submission journey, you will encounter a lot of judges like Simon Cowell.

They critique everything about you and your writing from the way you write dialogue to how good you can write a synopsis. And believe me, if you fail any of the steps along the way, you will be outed like a contestant on AI with no votes.

Why is it so hard to break through? Mostly it comes down to ability.

First, you have to have the ability to write a story. Being a storyteller is the most important job for a writer, just as a singer MUST be able to sing a song. Remember all those poor souls who THOUGHT they could sing in the auditions and we all scratched our heads and said, who told them they could sing?

Second, you have to know the basics of good writing. Don’t be too proud to buy a book or two on writing. There are so many good books out there to teach a new writer what they need to know. And many of them are exceptional reads. I love Stephen King’s book On Writing, and Elizabeth Berg’s book Escape into the Open.

Even if a contestant on AI has to go home, they can come back next year (at least until the show ends!) and writers can improve a book and resubmit in some places. Try to be a good sport though. No one likes a singer with a bad attitude, and no one will like you if you are a sore loser when you get rejected. Take your lumps like a good soldier and go back and work on your book a little longer. Take advice where it is given, and apply it to the best of your ability.

You just might be the next winner in the writer’s life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

MB4 Celebrates 1st Anniversary!

Have you heard the buzz? What’s all the hubbub, you ask?

One year, 297 posts, 108 guest writers, and over 11,640 visitors later, we think it’s time to CELEBRATE!

So get your party hats on, blow your horns, and join the party!

It’s hard to believe that a year ago on a cold February weekend my writing buddies, Aaron Lazar, Kim Smith, and I cheered and sent cyber hugs to a fellow writer and friend S. W. Vaughn when she announced news of a new publishing deal. The MB4 bunch have been friends for a few years and we were all in agreement that no one deserved the recognition more than our pal, S. W. Vaughn. As e-mails flew between Upstate New York, Indiana, and Mississippi the creative juices began to pour and soon over flowed with ideas on how to help promote our pal.

Now, anyone who knows us will agree that we’re a pretty creative bunch and not afraid to stick a toe in uncharted waters. As you can imagine, one thing led to another and in a matter of hours MURDER BY 4 came into being and was launched on February 18, 2008. Our initial thought, of course, was to use the blog as a way to promote our writings, post announcements, etc. However, it quickly grew into much more than a site to self-promote. We four have more than mystery writing in common, we remember our humble beginnings, the writing hurdles, and the many bumps and bruises we collected along the road to getting published. We also remember those who helped us get there. So as we continued to discuss what to do with this blog, the logical next step was to use it to promote other writers as well. A “pay it forward,” if you will.

To show our appreciation to our many loyal friends and readers,
we have a few things to give away. Every person who posts a comment today will have their name tossed into the cyber hat for a chance to win one of the following:

A copy of Aaron Lazar’s TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON

A copy of Marta Stephens’s

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (paperback), an e-book copy of THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, and one of Marta’s Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series book bags, and ...

an e-book copy of Kim Smith’s AVENGING ANGEL.

So, what’s the MB4 gang been up to since our last newsletter?

A note from Kim Smith

My first book, AVENGING ANGEL, was released in December 2008, and we held parties everywhere including on the radio at Blog Talk Radio on my radio show, and it is still available in the archives. I kicked off the new year by having three pieces accepted! “A Will to Love”, a short romance novella (release date pending), “Love Waltzes In” a short story inclusion for an anthology coming in September, and the next Shannon Wallace mystery, “Buried Angel” due to be released in December 2009.

February was the launch of my virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotions, which is still ongoing. You can find all the stops at my website, or my blog, and let me tell you, it is so much fun! You can win a free book tour if you are a published author or a fifty dollar gift certificate if you are not. So be sure and come with me as I travel the Internet promoting Avenging Angel. Look for the print copy of Avenging Angel soon!

A note from S. W. Vaughn

Made my first major book deal! Agent sold one of my urban fantasies, and an unwritten sequel, to Pocket Books!

The book line up looks like this:

* Broken Angel scheduled for release through LBF Books on April 28, 2009.
* Hunted scheduled for release through Lyrical Press on June 1, 2009.
* Launched a new look for the website:

A note from Aaron Paul Lazar

The last few months have been spent buried under edits for MAZURKA and HEALEY’S CAVE. But finally, FINALLY, I finished and was able to release the final manuscripts to my publisher. MAZURKA is now scheduled for April, and HEALEY’S CAVE will follow sometime in 2009. FIRESONG: AN UNHOLY GRAVE is in review at Twilight Times Books. I’m hopeful that it will accepted to follow MAZURKA as the fifth LeGarde mystery.

Finishing up these edits has freed me up to work on THE AVIARY, a new standalone that will be my thirteenth book. It feels so good to be writing again, creating again! Since the last update, I enjoyed some delightful radio shows at the following locations:

Radio Interview by our own Kim Smith on Introducing Writers.

Join Kim Smith and Aaron for a half hour of laughs and fun. Topics included Mazurka (the fourth LeGarde book), writing, inspiration, and more.

Join us!

Literary Therapy with Dr. Ni. This experience was unique, and I invite you to join the 90-minute session that became almost a "literary therapy" experience. Wonderful topics were discussed, such as innocence, life in the country, why abuse is featured in the LeGarde series so prevalently, and more. Join us here for a fascinating step into TREMOLO and the author's and host's minds. Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes with Dr. Ni.

I will also be appearing at the following venues in March. I hope if you’re in the neighborhood that you’ll stop in:

"Books Sandwiched In" at Wood Library, Canandaigua, March 2nd, noon, 2009

"Friends of the Library" Dinner and Author Talk, March 29th, 6PM 2009, 48 Union ST South, Concord, NC 28025 , (704)795-4902

Best wishes to all. Think spring!

A note from Marta Stephens

The release of the second book in my Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, in early November brought with it an avalanche of promotional activities; book signings, talks at local libraries and several discussions at book clubs. I was sure the rollercoaster ride would ease up in December but since I’m not one to ever really slow down, I slipped a stack of articles and interview answers under my cyber arm and went on a virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotion. It was truly a fantastic experience with one of the top in the business. Loved meeting new friends and reuniting with old buddies along the way. You’ll find the links to my tour stops at my Prose & Musing blog:

With the new year looming just ahead, I made plans to work on the third book in the series, GRAVE WITNESS (working title). This book also began as a novella and although I began rewriting it last June, I haven’t had a chance to get back to it. The truth of the matter is that I needed some time to work through a difficult scene. I was certain that during the Christmas holiday I would dive into it—okay, maybe after New Years. By then, the difficulty had developed into a writer’s block so while I pondered the how and why of it, I launched yet another blog. This one features none other than my protagonist, homicide detective Sam Harper .

Stop by and chat with him. In return, he’ll entertain you with some short stories and periodic updates on some of his cases. Last week he received a call from Shannon Wallace (Kim Smith’s character). Shannon was in trouble and needed Sam's help. It’s all documented here, And while you’re there, check out the amazing book trailer at the bottom of the blog that our own talented S. W. Vaughn created for me. :)
So you see, we live what we blog about. We thank you for supporting us during our first year and for sending your many words of encouragement. Most of all, thank you for helping us make MURDER BY 4 a great place to meet new authors, pick up a writing tip or two, and oh yes, allowing us to do a bit of self-promotion.

Let’s face it, our journeys may differ but we’ve all stood on the same starting block. So keep writing and sharing, and for Heaven sakes, keep coming back to MB4!

We love ya!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Finding Time To Write

© Sia McKye 2009 all rights reserved

“If we make it through December
Everything’s gonna be all right I know
It's the coldest time of winter
And I shiver when I see the fallin’ snow
If we make it
through December, we’ll be fine…”

Merle Haggard sang that song way back when. For a country song, I always liked it. I liked the message behind it. Tough times. Taking it a day at a time. The feeling of hope.

We’ve all made it through December, and January. We’re renewed with the New Year. Many of us are trying to get back on track, after the busy holidays, with our writing. Now we need to make it through the rest of winter and into spring. How are you getting back on track with your writing schedule? Do you have a schedule? A schedule is a must for me. Everyone’s different. There’s no right or wrong way.

For me, it’s discipline. I have to organize my time to allow for my writing time. Those days I’m not working, I write a couple of intensive hours in the morning. I treat it like a job. I have to stay focused or I lose it. If I lose it, I feel guilty because I frittered my time away. What that means is, I can’t surf the net, or take part in my on line discussions.

I’m usually up by 6:00 a.m. every morning. My son, Jake, gets up at 6:30. While I have my first cup of coffee, I catch up on my email and what’s been happening. By the time Jake walks out the door at 7:30 a.m. to catch the school bus, my dogs have done their duties outside. I eat something; grab a second cup of coffee and by 8:00 a.m. I’m ready to write. I close out all but the MS I’m working on. I don’t answer the phone; I let the voice pick it up. I write. There’s no magic to it. It’s a matter of just sitting my butt in the chair and doing it. Just as if I went into the office to work. I take minimal breaks during that time.

Somewhere around 10-10:30, I’ll break. I may walk outside and check on my animals (I raise Great Danes and horses), start a load of clothes, figure out what I want for dinner. If I’m in a good writing groove, I’ll continue writing for another hour. I have chores to do and sometimes errands to run. I work on getting all that done mid-day. I try to nap for an hour, if I can, around 2:30 when I’m home. That way I’m refreshed for when Jake comes home by 4:00 p.m. I tend to wake up a bit out of it, so I need that 30 minutes to get into gear for snacks, homework, chatting, and the evening feedings, starting dinner. My husband is home by 5:30 so we spend time talking about our day while dinner is cooking. After dinner, it’s catching up on secular work issues and I try to get in an hour or two of writing. Depends upon work. I’ve been learning how to juggle editing and new writing. I haven’t won that battle completely, but it is getting easier.

Bottom line for me, if I don’t make the time, then my time gets squandered away and nothing is accomplished. I don’t like that feeling. I also need to be consistent. Most successful writers have to be.

How do you carve out time to write? Some work full time. Some can’t write at home but have a favorite place they can write. Some can only write on weekends, or early morning before the day starts, or late at night when the house is quiet. The point is they have to make the time.

So, what works for you?
About the author
I'm married to a spitzy Italian. We have a ranch out beyond the back 40 where I raise kids, dogs, horses, cats, and have been known to raise a bit of hell, now and then. I have a good sense of humor and am an observer of life and a bit of a philosopher. I see the nuances—they intrigue me.

I’m a Marketing Rep by profession and a creative writer. I have written several mainstream Romance novels one of which I’ve out on a partial request. I’ve written and published various articles on Promotion and Publicity, Marketing, Writing, and the Publishing industry.

Aside from conducting various writing discussions and doing numerous guest blogging engagements, I write a blog, Over Coffee, Each week I promote and share authors’ stories, on the laughter, glitches, triumphs, and fun that writers and authors face in pursuit of their ambition to write—Over Coffee.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What Is the Theme?

© A. F. Stewart 2009 all rights reserved

It's a pleasure to welcome author A. F. Stewart to Murder by 4 on one of her virtual book tour stops. Ms. Stewart has not only penned a wonderful, fast-pace fiction, but she is also a great supporter of fellow writers. Now, after publishing CHRONICLES OF THE UNDEAD, she asks,

Have you asked yourself: What is the theme of my book?

A theme is the dominant, underlying idea or concept that runs through your book; the motif you want to present in your writing. You should be able to reduce it to a sentence such as, crime doesn’t pay, justice prevails, and will triumphs over adversity (they’re a bit cliché, I know, but to the point). A good writer should give some thought to the central theme of their book, but frankly I never did until recently. I figured writing was just penning a good, entertaining story, right?

As I was starting to write my latest book, CHRONICLES OF THE UNDEAD, I thought I would brush up on my writing skills, as all writers should. So, I obtained a book about writing technique (don’t ask me which one; sometimes my memory is a sieve), and eagerly began reading the wisdom imparted by the author. Buried in the pages was a discussion about theme and how to identify your theme. My first reaction was, theme, I’m supposed to have a theme? My second thought, what exactly was the theme of my book?

That got me thinking: what did I want to say with this book? Panic and confusion set in briefly, before my brain cells started working and I started asking myself questions. Did I want people to read it, enjoy it and then forget it? Or did I want to express something, some tiny part of the way I looked at the world? Can you even have the idea of theme in a genre book about vampires, isn’t that an idea for more literary works?

So I pondered the story I was writing, the characters and their motivations. I decided I could and should have a theme, that this was simply a premise, the core essence of my story idea. As I mulled over what made my book tick, I came to realise the basis of the book hinged a question: Would someone resist a dark, evil seduction? My answer in regard to a character was no, and the rest of the book evolved from the consequences of this answer.

I went back to my book, armed with this new insight, and set to work with visions of themes racing through my head. I contemplated appropriate themes, the nature of evil, resisting temptation, before settling on the consequence of choices. As I plotted, planned and penned, I kept the concept in my mind, letting the book evolve from this view; in fact, my new foundation changed a key plot point and the actions of two characters.

In my grand quest for theme, I found a unifying thread that sent me off in interesting writing directions, and, I feel, improved the book. It certainly tied together differing ideas and characters, allowing (I hope) a smooth transition from page to page.

About the Author

A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, and still calls it home. The youngest of a family of seven children, she has always had an overly creative mind, and an active imagination. She is fond of good books (especially science fiction/fantasy), action movies, and oil painting as a hobby.

Ms. Stewart has been writing for several years, her main focus being in the fantasy genre. She also has a great interest in history and mythology, often working those themes into her books and stories. To date she has authored and published a volume of poetry, TEARS OF POETRY, a collection of fantasy short stories, INSIDE REALMS, a small, non-fiction movie guide, THE INCOMPLETE LIST OF ACTION MOVIE CLICHES and a horror/vampire novella, CHRONICLES OF THE UNDEAD.

You can find her thoughts about writing and various excerpts from her books at her website:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Confessions of a Troubled Writer

I am going to make a confession. I have trouble with writing sometimes. I know this is shocking to some people, and others who never have blocks or slowdowns will tell me it is going to be okay. I appreciate it. The thing is, I already figured this out. I have posted before on how to motivate the muse and even on ways to jumpstart it, but today I thought I would try anew for those who still have this trouble.

Problems creep in

So, what makes writing so hard? Why can’t we just make ourselves sit down and do it?

One reason, it is difficult. Some people start off with a great deal of enthusiasm for writing and have a great story idea. The problem is that the story is not one that will go for a whole long novel. Maybe they need to consider writing a short story!

Another reason- it has too many characters. Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. It has so many people in it that the writer has to keep a list. When dialogue has to be done it becomes either too stilted or too similar and either way, it is not good.

Finally, some people just haven’t gotten the ideas down clearly yet. No goal, motivation or conflict apparent anywhere. My suggestion is to go back and redo it all. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but you want honesty, right?

The Way

So what do you do to fix this situation? My rule: KISS- keep it simple stupid. And here are a few methods:

Make a goal.

Write only as much as you feel you can at any sitting. Do not tax this because if you burn out, you will be out of that writing chair for a long time. Make a goal and only do your goal amount. You can lengthen it on another day if you feel inspired.

Write daily.

You have to do this thing that we do EVERY day. Sit down flex your fingers and write. It doesn’t have to be the next bestseller. It does have to be something you can read back and think about.

Report to others

Get some of your friends and family involved. Tell them to call you up every day and ask you if you have written that day. Make them accountable for your activity and believe me, you will do what you must. Who wants to have to explain WHY they didn’t write?

Reward yourself.

Hey, it works for diets, right? Go out and buy yourself something you really want to give yourself a pat on the back for being devoted to your craft. Then email me, and let me know what you have done. I will be your personal cheerleader!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Holy Book Deal, Batman!

Well, it’s finally happened.

I’m very pleased to announce that my agent has sold one of my urban fantasies, Master of None, and an unwritten sequel, to Pocket Books, for publication beginning in spring 2010.

*insert much cheering and jumping and blowing of horns here*

Did I say ‘very pleased’? I meant completely ecstatic!

My fellow bloggers here know how much "fun" I’ve had getting to this point. It’s a long, long story. Over at Dear Author, one of the regular blogs I read, they have a feature called “My First Sale,” where every Friday they share first-sale stories from writers of all levels – debut to midlist to bestseller. I’d like to share my story here with you.


I started writing seriously a little over ten years ago. No, that’s not a typo. My first novel was a (cheesy, badly written) romance, and I wrote it all in the space of three weeks, in a notebook, while caring for three toddlers: my son and my two nephews. Of course, I thought it was brilliant, and so I searched for a publisher right after I finished typing the manuscript (with no editing whatsoever).

The first publisher I sent it to loved it! But back then, the internet was not as wide-reaching or informative as it is now, and few writers had heard of an emerging technology called POD (print-on-demand), and I thought it was perfectly normal to pay a few hundred dollars to get a book published. Eventually, I learned it wasn’t.

I also learned that what I’d written was absolute dreck. I abandoned that one, and wrote another romance novel – also cheesy, not quite as badly written, but still unpublishable. I discovered that romance was not my genre. So I switched to thrillers, and started what would eventually become a series.

While trying to get my series published, I discovered that in the publishing world there are outright scams, and then there are subtler elements that can gently be termed "inept." I must have fallen for all of them. I signed with publishers that were still POD and industry-impaired, but because they didn’t charge anything, I assumed they were legit. They weren’t. I’d heard writers had a better shot with new, hungry agents. I got a "new" agent. She had a nervous breakdown and left agenting.

Fast forward several years and several hundred rejections. I’d finished four books in the thriller series, and pulled out an older, third attempt at romance that didn’t suck too much. I finished the manuscript and sent it off to a reputable e-press without much hope. They accepted! It was my first taste of real publishing. My editor there was wonderfully brutal, and my writing craft improved because of her (if you’re reading this: thank you, Karen!).

I needed more. I’d read some novels in a new-ish genre called ‘urban fantasy’, and decided I liked it quite a lot. Enough to try writing it myself. I started a story about evil angels and not-so-evil Nephilim (half angel, half human). I thought it was going well—until I sent my first page in to one of the infamous, wonderful Miss Snark’s blog contests.

She didn’t think it was going so well. And once I digested her insightful comments, I realized she was right.

I remained disheartened for a few weeks. Then, I scrapped what I had of the story and started over, with a new protagonist, new world rules and new motivations. I finished the manuscript in four months, and sent it out into the world. That was when I started getting multiple requests from agents for more material. Thrilled beyond belief, I ended up signing with the magnificent Cameron McClure, who works for my “dream” agency: the Donald Maass agency.

She was just as excited about this manuscript as I was. She sent it out on submission with high hopes. And then the responses started coming in: rejection, rejection, rejection. Too YA for the adult market. Too adult for YA. Wonderful writing, but don’t give up your day job. I couldn’t believe it. I had a real agent, a great agent, but the editors just weren’t going to bite.

I had choices. One: give up. Two: rewrite the manuscript into either adult or YA. Three: write yet another novel, and try again. I finally went with Option Three, though Option One really seemed tempting.

Another year and a half, and a new completed manuscript later: the novel has been out on submission for quite a while. It’s after the holiday season, the middle of winter, and I’m working three part-time jobs and treading water. One of them is at McDonalds. Last Thursday, I reported just before noon for a four-hour shift. While I’m putting my coat and purse in the crew room, the office phone rings. One of the managers says it’s for me.

No one ever calls me at work with good news. I pick up, and it’s my husband. He sounds . . . odd. He says, "You have to call your agent. Right now." I’m eating a jelly donut that one of my co-workers brought in, and my hands start shaking so bad that I smear it all over myself. We can’t make long-distance calls from the office phone, and I don’t own a cell phone, so I run out of the office with red jelly all over my hands, screaming, "A phone! I need a phone, right now!" The grill manager thinks I’m bleeding to death. There is a long moment of confusion before someone finally lends me a phone.

I call my agent. I don’t hear much beyond "two-book deal with Pocket Books". I’m shaking and crying, and I call my husband back and shout something unintelligible, which he miraculously understands. Then I wash the jelly off my hands, and proceed to spend the next four hours making double cheeseburgers. But I don’t care. I can’t stop smiling.


I still can’t. I finally made it. And no matter what happens from here on, I will always be grateful for this.

Monday, February 9, 2009


© Ernie Johnson 2009 all rights reserved

Ever since becoming a published author, I found out just the extent of what other authors endure as part of the publishing process – book marketing.

Many authors, myself included, go the route of personal blogs to promote their written words. Blogs, much like personal websites, are only as good as the quality and quantity of traffic you get to visit them. In essence, you don’t try to attract car buyers to a blog about baby clothing. That may be a bit extreme, but think about it. You’re an author of a western saga. Your blog caters to that theme. You want to attract readers who love westerns. The more people you can attract, who love western novels, the better chances of seeing sales of your book.

My blog, Authors And Their Books, caters to authors and book lovers of all genres – both fiction and non-fiction.. Authors get to showcase one of their published works. Their book’s cover, the author’s picture, the genre, the website link where the book can be purchased, and a synopsis of the book, is all included for each author showcased. I started this blog with my own published novel DESTINY OF THE DIVAS, a paranormal/suspense/mystery about kidnapped kids. To find out more, visit the blog, or go to my website at

Networking is a horse of another color. There are literally thousands of networking websites out there in cyber space, covering just about every subject known to man. As authors and writers, it’s our desire to network with other authors, writers, and hopefully readers who will spend their money buying our books.

Speaking for myself, I’m an avid networker and am presently involved with around a dozen writing/author/reader related networking websites. Why do you need to network, you might ask? Let’s use a different case scenario. Let’s say you’re a carpenter and you’ve built the ultimate in backyard patios for your home. To promote what you can do, you invite some friends and neighbors over for a backyard barbeque. Now these people get to see what you’ve accomplished. This is networking. As authors, we love to show the world what we’ve written. By joining these networking groups, and making friends with other authors and book lovers, we are doing the very same thing. We are showing the world what we’ve written.

It costs nothing but our time to upload our book’s cover, put in a synopsis of our book(s) and any other promotional related items, like book trailers, photo slide shows, website links, etc. and then invite others, within that network, to be your friend. You never know which friend just might buy your book, so the more friends you have, the better, specially when you know they are book lovers.

Some networking groups have chat rooms and have scheduled chats with authors. These groups are more effective, because they showcase different authors in their chats, and they get to chat about their book. One of my favorite networking sites is the Author and Book Event Center.

In closing, everything you do, to help promote your book or books, is a plus. Today, with the upsurge in internet savvy book readers, it’s almost mandatory that you both BLOG and NETWORK, online to attract readers you’ll most likely never ever get to meet face to face.
* * *
Ernie Johnson started writing in the mid 1980’s, before the luxury of home computers. Back then it was nothing more than an electric typewriter, lots of paper and typewriter ribbon. He first wrote for a friend, who didn’t know how to type, nor did he know how to write either.

After finishing his project, Ernie was unable to locate his friend. He’s fallen off the face of the earth. Ernie searched for over eight years, and moved from New Hampshire, to Cleveland, Ohio, back to Massachusetts. He ended up discarding his work, for as an honest man Earnie refused to steal it, even though he'd brought his 750 written pages to a 1500 d/s typewritten novel.

It was during the time Ernie wrote for him, that a desire burned within him to write for himself. Ernie started with OVERTURNED and he's never looked back. He now write novels and also screenplays from his own books. He has, at present, four published novels, a novella, and a published book of short stories for 10 – 15 year olds, called THE MISADVENTURES OF THE DIVAS BROTHERS.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Becoming My Own Genre

copyright 2009, Pat Bertram

Murderby4 is pleased to welcome Pat Bertram for another guest post. Pat is a prolific blogger and author of More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which will be published later this year by Second Wind Publishing.
Libraries and bookstores used to be set up with a mystery section, a romance section, a science fiction section, and then all the rest of the novels. That’s what mine are — “one of all the rest”. Though that isn’t a genre. Drats.
When did we become so concerned with genre? When independent publishing houses were bought out by the conglomerates? It makes sense — because of my efforts at trying to promote my still-soon-to-be released novels (”soon” is sometime in January now), I’m becoming aware of how difficult it is to get people to notice a “one of all the rest” novel. Most people seem to stick with a reading a certain type of book, and they have certain expectations. Romance readers expect the romantic couple in a romance novel to have romantic conflicts, romantic interludes, and romantic delays until the final romantic finish. If any of their expectations are not met, they will hate the book even if it is spectacular.
I understand this; it happens to me with movies. If a certain movie is advertised as a comedy (Working Girl, for example) and it isn’t comedic all the way through, I hate it because my expectations have not been met. Later, if I watch that same movie without any preconceived notions, I might like it, seeing it (again, like Working Girl) as a drama with comedic moments. But how many people reread a book they hate?
A friend (James R. from Gather) told me: “Transcend genre, change the rules and the world is your oyster. Lamentably, only a few writers are able to pull that off, but hey, nobody said this writing, promoting, and editing stuff was easy, right?” So I need to build my own audience and then it won’t matter that I have no genre because I will be my own genre. Sounds good.

Now if I can only figure out how to do it.



Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book -- character and story driven novels that can't be easily 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, are available for pre-order from Second Wind Publishing. Bertram's publisher says: “I was told by some other small publishers with whom I had done research that I was going to get mountains of unacceptable crap for every worthy thing I received. So when I got Pat's manuscript for A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which was like the first submission to Second Wind, I thought, ‘OMG, is this possible?!’ I knew in the first 20 pages that she was the real thing.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rituals: I Haz Dem

Do you ever feel that if you do a certain thing in a certain way, everything will be right with the world? The impulse to place or order things is a common one for writers. Most of them I know have rituals, big or small, that they perform on a regular basis - some without even realizing it.

I have mine. Whenever I'm writing, whether it's freelance or fiction, I must open MS Word first, and then my browser, so that Word is the first tab on my taskbar. And I must have a browser window open while I'm writing - whether I'm constantly checking my e-mail, listening to my YouTube playlist, or ignoring the Internet completely. If I'm eager to check my e-mail before I start writing, I will close my browser before I open Word so that the windows are in their proper places.

I also have a little game that I play with myself when I'm doing magazine work. Each of the ads I write has a file name, and we have a template that the ads must be pasted into before we send it into production. After I've pasted the text from my original document into the template, and I have two Word documents open on the screen, I hover the mouse over the original file in the taskbar so the file name pops up in the mouseover box - and then I try to type the file name (which is a series of random letters and numbers) into the template document before the mouseover box disappears. I usually make it, and I get a little burst of satisfaction even though it serves absolutely no purpose.

Another tic of mine: when I finish writing a novel, I must drink hazelnut coffee. If I don't have any in the house, and I'm nearly done with the last chapter, I will stop writing and drive to the store to get some so that I'm ready when it's finished.

What are some of your writing rituals? If you don't think you have any, pay close attention the next time you're writing. I'll bet you do!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Positive Side of Things

I was talking with a good friend of mine yesterday about midlife frustrations and other weird things that I never dreamed I’d experience 10-20 years ago. She was particularly amused when I told her that we’ve lived in my home for 22 years and for reasons unknown, I caught myself trying to turn the kitchen light on by flipping the wall plug at the other side of the room. Don’t ask ... I have no answers. Life happens and sometimes all we can do is shrug a shoulder, hope no one was watching, and move on.

But in spite of the weight gain, apparent temporary memory loss as demonstrated above, and the miscellaneous aches and pains, I tend to think fun time are just beginning. At any rate, our talk reminded me of an article I wrote during my December 2008 virtual book tour that hit on the subject of aging and following your dream later in life. Thought I’d post it today for anyone who missed it the first time and who may need reassurance that there is life after 50.

A Midlife Dream
© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

What I would say to someone interested in pursuing their dreams later in life? Go for it! No matter how small, large, or unattainable the dream may seem, it’s always within reach if you want it badly enough. People can find a million and one excuses for why they haven’t accomplished a goal—age shouldn’t be one of them.

Crawl out of that comfort zone, feel the edge of an uncharted path beneath your feet, and push forward. Life is a series of stepping stones, each leading to a new challenge and the next level of development. The jagged edge that trips some people is the fear of the unknown. “Should I stop while I’m ahead, or move on?” Regardless of the decision, in twelve months you’ll be a year older. The question is, will you be a year older and adding to your list of excuses or on your way to living a dream?

I began to write fiction in 2003 at the age of 49, and although my degree in journalism/public relations gave me the foundation and discipline I would need to succeed as a writer, fiction is an entirely different process. However, it has been invaluable as I plan my marketing/promotional strategies.

The first three books in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series began life as a set of three novellas. I joined online author groups, followed discussions on plot, pace, characterization, etc., and participated in writing workshops. I also read every how-to book I could get my hands on and applied all I had learned to my writing. The turning point came in 2006 when I joined an online critique group and decided to expand each of the novellas into novels. Participation in this group was not for the thin-skinned individual. Comments were often harsh, but the honest, constructive critiques forced me to push my writing to the next level.

The challenge for me was to learn the intricacies of the craft, find my voice, develop a complex plot, create believable characters, polish the prose, and turn SILENCED CRY into a marketable piece. Seven months after joining the group, BeWrite Books (UK), who I had queried a year before about my series of novellas, requested the expanded manuscript. SILENCED CRY was released in April 2007, and went on to receive honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival. The second book in the series, “The Devil Can Wait” was released on November 3, 2008.

But how does one get from the solitude act of writing to getting published? Networking and dedication to the craft. In this day and age of global marketing, Internet sales, online reviews, interviews, and e-zines, blogging is a writer’s lifeline. I've been blogging for several years through my website, a personal blog, and my authors’ group blog, Murder by 4. At last count, I belong to about 26 online writers’ forums/groups.

Keeping up with some of the blogs is time consuming and I’m often asked how I manage to find time to continue to work outside the home, care for my family, home, write novels and network as much as I do. Unlike a hobby, writing isn’t something I do when I have time—I make time. Call it prioritizing or time management, what it means is that I haven’t cut out all my television viewing, I simply don’t watch it every night. I may not be able to work out in the yard all weekend long like I used to do either, but that’s okay, because when it comes right down to it, I’ve always made time for the things I wanted to do and right now, my focus is on writing. I can’t say that I’ve cut anything out of my life. I simply take things one day at a time and focus on what needs immediate attention.

All the work aside, the best part of this business is meeting people. Being published has opened doors and has given me a chance to get to know people from all walks of life and nationalities that I would have never met otherwise. My publisher is based in the UK and has an international reach, a global author pool, and full-time professional editorial and technical staff in Germany, France, Canada, USA, and Australia. This has given my books world-wide exposure and readership. The proof is that in the year and a half since I launched my website, over 30,000 unique visitors from 119 countries have visited the site. That's not only amazing; it’s what makes the experience fun.

So what’s the most exciting part about getting published in my 50’s? What I leave my children; proof that learning is a life-long process and the understanding that dreams can come true, regardless of age, if you put your mind to it.

* * *
Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)
SILENCED CRY (2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

MURDER BY 4 Authors' Books Make the Midwest Book Review February 2009 Reviewer's Bookwatch

We received news today that two MURDER BY 4 contributing authors have book reviews in Midwest Book Reviews this month and are listed under the February 2009 Reviewer's Bookwatch. Many thanks to our reviwers, Aaron Paul Lazar and Thomas Fortenberry.

The Devil Can Wait (Sam Harper Mysteries)
Marta Stephens
BeWrite Books
ISBN 9781905202867
Reviewed by Thomas Fortenberry

The latest Sam Harper mystery may leave the devil waiting, but not the readers. This gritty mystery series lies at the crossroads of crime and thrillers, both 87th Precinct and Davinci Code. Bodies of teenagers are washing ashore in an apocalypse of murder and intrigue spanning the dark dangerous world, from Vatican to Colombia to Harper’s hometown of Chandler, Mass. Drugs to ancient religious secrets to serial killers, this book has it all.

But the book’s unrelenting drama isn’t what captures me. It is the character Sam Harper and author Stephens. She writes with a forensic authority that makes these pages bleed with real world angst. Detective Harper is a well-realized, no-nonsense cop, a streetwise guy who refuses to give up despite the odds. When the going gets rough, everyone else has given up, an easy option looms, and the race becomes overwhelming, Harper is just getting started. He is the original it ain’t over guy. He literally pushes himself beyond physical collapse to solve crimes. He refuses to let any criminal escape on his watch.

The Devil Can Wait is a good mystery. Sam Harper is a better cop. I can’t wait to follow his next career move.

* * *

Avenging Angel
Kim Smith
Red Rose Publishing
ISBN 133389781604352764

Reviewed by Aaron Paul Lazar

A great read doesn't have to be fancy, full of literary allusions or deep musings. Nor does it need a ritzy setting, plots that twist your brain into a pretzel, or elite protagonists.

What a great read does need is a story that moves, characters who linger in your mind, and a voice that calls you back to its pages. Avenging Angel by Kim Smith accomplished all three.

Smith has written a suspenseful cozy mystery set in the south in a small lazy town. Shannon Wallace, a spunky, smart, and all-American young woman, is at the brink of disaster. Dumped by her beau, fired from her job, and plunged into the middle of a killer nightmare, Shannon's pluck and smarts carry her forward in a tidal wave of terror that will get your heart pumping in this delightful page turner.

When Shannon's boyfriend is murdered hours after he breaks up with her, she discovers their private video collection is missing. Problem is, the star of the intimate show is Shannon, and she'll do everything in her power to retrieve the embarrassing disks.

The author knows how to write. But best of all, she knows how to write like she talks. It's not easy to accomplish, as most debut authors tend to fall into the trap of using words that sound good but don't fit, or making a sentence far more complex than it needs to be. Smith's simple, straightforward, and quite endearing style is what drives Avenging Angel forward, with hints of colorful Southern dialect and engaging dialogue.

That said, there are select moments of literary prose that shine, as in the following excerpt:

"August in the Mid-South is like summer in the tropics. The crepe myrtles bloom in fuchsia and pink, and old people perch like lazy flies on white wicker swings and cane chairs. In every neighborhood, folded fans gently wave at the heat, and everyone talks about the weather. No one moves too much, or too fast, thanks to the humidity, which turns the still air into a sauna-like atmosphere even before daybreak. The firmest hair spray is reduced to damp stickiness, the best-laid plans are set-aside until evening, and the most even-tempered person will contemplate murdering their friend."

By contrast, take a look at this wonderfully simple, yet engaging, segment:

"My dreams were a mish mash of colors and snippets from my life. I saw myself as a child, orphaned. I relived the pain that accompanied it until it nearly drowned me and woke with tears on my face. The birds of summer played somewhere outside the window and all the sounds of nature seemed intensified as though reassuring me I was still alive."

As much as I enjoyed the plot line-straightforward, tense, great suspense-it was the relationships between Shannon, Dwayne, Salvatore, her elderly aunts, and the broad cast of suspects that sold me.

I was most pleased that Shannon didn't fall into the arms of the handsome local detective, because that would have made the work too predictable, trite, or Lifetime Movie-ish. No, Shannon held her own, wasn't pushed around by the cops, and survived numerous attacks by a very frightening assailant. This woman-while she does show very real emotions that ring true-won't be bullied by anyone. And when Dwayne helps her buy and learn to use a handgun, it may be the key to her survival.

Smith, "a true blue southern gal who was raised on black-eyed peas and cornbread," promises sequels to her captivating world.

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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)

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