Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Blame My iPhone

Ever since I finally landed my new day job, life has been more hectic than ever. I'm waking up at 2, 3, and 4 in the morning, worrying about getting things done. I start work Tuesday, June 1st, and have been to the office twice already to meet folks, to sign W4 forms (and a ton of others). I love my new coworkers, the casual atmosphere, and the jeans I'll be able to wear to work. ;o) Yeah, it's almost like working at Apple.

Maybe that's why I ordered an iPhone. The company pays the monthly charges (Yay, KB America!) and I get to discover what everyone's been raving about.

So, last night, instead of writing this article, I played on the phone. It's pretty intuitive, and since I had a MacBook Pro that I already am in love with, it all worked as advertised, even for my big fat fingers. Get this - it "learns" your touch and adjusts the tapping algorithm to match your fingers. So cool.

Anyway, it is kinda like a little laptop, but I must say, at this point I'm much better at typing on a full sized keyboard.  If you get an answer to your email and it's full of errors and stupid spellings, you'll know why. ;o)

I hope everyone enjoys a wonderful Memorial Day. If you have time, write us some memories of your own serviceman or women, or special events you attend on Memorial Day. Post your pieces in the comments section if you can - or email them to me and I'll add them at the end of this email.

Happy Memorial Day weekend!


Sent to you from my iPhone. (just kidding!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's Release Day!

Ain't he pretty? *G* I'm pleased to announce that HEARTSONG, my second m/m urban fantasy erotica title from Loose Id, releases today! I'd post the blurb here, but I'm afraid Blogger will require a higher rating than we currently possess for that. :-) If you're interested, you can check it out at the Loose Id website here. However, I can share the quickie (ha ha) description:

A slave and a prostitute, both bound to serve a Fae prince, fall into lust -- and love -- behind the prince's back. But can their love break Fae laws and set them both free?

In other cool news: my first Loose Id book, SKIN DEEP, is going to print! It will be available in paper form next month. I am thrilled!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Things They Don’t Teach Writers in College

© Jeffrey Leever 2010 all rights reserved

Most colleges and universities around the country just finished up finals week and graduation ceremonies this month. As I go about my book tour for my second mystery novel, THE UNIVERSITY, I’m realizing all the stuff I didn’t know when I graduated with a writing degree.

To be fair, I learned plenty about the English language while in school and also some valuable things about the craft of writing. It’s just too bad there wasn’t an “Author 101” course that would’ve really dished the dirt on the kinds of things authors often discover later rather than sooner.

I’m sure many readers of this blog who are also authors will be able to come up with plenty of their own items on this topic. In any case, here are ten of mine in no particular order:

1. Some people will treat you differently when they find out that you are an author. You will still be the same person with the same clothes, hair style, and checking account balance as you were before they learned that you write books. They will still view you differently. This isn’t all good and it isn’t all bad.

2. You will really really want to pay attention in college math. Maybe even take extra math beyond your general studies requirements. That way, maybe, you’ll be able to understand the royalty statements you get one day from your publisher. Come to think of it, it would be great if you could find a curriculum that covers how to decipher them.

3. If you end up living in any major metro area in the United States, you will spend hours of your life either commuting somewhere or stuck in traffic. If you can figure out a good way to channel this “down time” toward something writing- or book-related, you’re golden. Texting doesn’t count, though.

4. Bookmarks, book trailers, and websites are all now “standard issue” for an author -- as in, it is standard that you issue them yourself no matter who your publisher is.

5. You will hate -- HATE -- killing off certain characters.

6. Someday you may learn more than you ever wanted to know about publishing industry terms like “returns” and “holdbacks” and that something called “the remainder market” is far more competitive than one might assume.

7. At a book signing, when people ask, “What’s your book about?” they usually mean…

I’m not really listening, just probing for key words. The shorter and friendlier you keep your answer, the more interested I will be.

8. When people ask, “Where are you from?” They want you to say the name of the city, area, or state where you are currently signing -- or at least muster an attempt at some connection.

9. If some creepy guy with a bunch of horror DVDs in his hand comes up to your table at Borders and says “Where are you staying tonight?” do not reply with the truth. You’re already going to remember it more than two years later when invited to write a Murder By 4 guest blog.

10. If you’re at an event and someone mistakes you for another author, be ready with a comeback and have some fun with it.

When people ask me, “Are you really Jeffery Deaver?”…

I’ve learned that if I keep my composure, smile, and say something like, “Not exactly, but I’m younger and have more hair,” I stand a decent chance of converting that question into a sale.

My latest book, THE UNIVERSITY, is set on a college campus in the Midwest and, naturally, has several characters in it who are college students. This month especially, I can’t helping thinking about today’s students, and also that 21-year-old version of myself who graduated from a college wanting to be an author “on tour” someday.

The above are just a few of the things that I wish I could tell the younger Jeffrey Leever. What about you?

About the tour:
Jeffrey Leever is giving away a signed copy of his book, THE UNIVERSITY, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to his book tour page, , enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 9959, for your chance to win. Entries from MURDER BY 4 will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on his book tour page next week.

Stop by Novel Works to read Marta Stephens's interview of Jeffrey Leever on May 20, 2010.

About the author:
Jeffrey Leever is the author of the mystery/suspense novels The University (Capital Crime Press, 2009) and Dark Friday (Capital Crime Press, 2007).

He is a former PR staff member for Colorado Governor Bill Owens, as well as former senior editor for a nonprofit organization. He now lives in Blue Springs, Missouri.

A Nebraska native, he wrote a college football column, the Scarlet Commentary, for several years. He holds a degree in English with a writing emphasis and is perpetually at work on his next suspense/mystery novel.

To learn more about the author and the book, visit his website at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Have you ever...

...had one of those weeks?

I think I am.

I have not even thought about my WIP at all this week. I have been swamped with "other" life stuff. I just did inventory and I haven't blogged but twice, haven't posted more than an "I am so sleepy" on Facebook, and haven't Twitter'ed at all.

My photography business is booming at the moment and all of my attention has been fixed on that. (so sorry WIP!)

But just because you guys are my friends and you might wanna know what the hey hey I have been doing.... you can visit the site and see the pics here VideoVision

Hope your week is flying by as fast as mine!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Writer's Roller Coaster Ride

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

Next month my husband Rick and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary so when I attended a wedding last weekend and the minister compared marriage to a roller coaster ride; the ups and downs, the laughter and tears, believe me, I got it. It was obvious from the smiles on the faces of other couples present that they did too.  :)

I listened as he told the couple that everything in their lives and every person they’d met had led them to that moment together at the front of the church. He told them that even after the first few years they would continue to discover new things about each other. Marriage, he said, is change and change can be scary as well as exciting. Yes, they would encounter numerous twist and turns along the way, but if they stayed together and saw thing through, those bumps would serve to strengthen their relationship. He admitted they would encounter days when the ride isn’t as much fun. The day might come when they’d get tired of the ride and perhaps not want to ride at all. But, giving up isn’t the answer because unlike a roller coaster ride that eventually ends, marriage is an ongoing journey that needs developing and needs to be sprinkled often with a good dose of nurturing.

It made perfect sense to me, but what aspect of life doesn’t cause a bruise now and then? Parenting, careers, siblings, friendships—each aspect of life has its own set of bumps that at times makes us scream that we want to get off the ride and go home.

Okay, so I’m off the subject of writing, or am I?

Do you remember the first day you realized you could and/or wanted to write? I do. It all started with a “What if?” I didn’t notice the writer lurking inside, waiting for the right moment to grab me by the throat and say, “I’m here!” Heck I worked full time (still do, by the way), our children were small, and my evenings and weekends were filled with the usual things that families do. And yet, the writing bug bit and its sting was something of a nuisance at first, but as much as I tried to ignore it, it started to burn.

I remember being totally consumed by my writing in those early days. It didn’t matter that I’d never written fiction before, that I didn’t know the fundamentals of dialogue or plot, that hadn’t found my voice or knew the first thing about pace. No, I was writing from the heart without a thought in my head about readers, publishers, editors, or agents. Sales and book signings were the farthest thing from my mind. Websites and blogging? Forget it! I didn’t want that distraction. I was truly happy being creative.

It’s been several years now since I pounded out those first words on the keyboard and like my 30-year marriage, my 8-year writing career has matured (it happens whether we like it or not). It doesn’t mean that I like writing less or that I’m bored by any stretch of the imagination. It simply means that I understand what’s at stake and instead of tossing the manuscript on the shelf when I can’t figure out a scene, I work it. I may walk away, but I work it until it’s right. Sometimes “right” means cutting the scene out of the novel completely or killing my favorite character if that’s what it’s going to it take to make the plot work .

Writing, just like any other aspect of life, can be exciting and frightening at the same time just like a roller coaster ride. The thing is, I’m no longer writing just for myself. I know what I’m capable of producing and what my readers expect and that’s what keeps me going. Yet, as sure as I’m typing these words, I know there will be more nasty turns on the other side of the ridge. I’m expecting to bruise again, but I’m not giving up—not yet. The “What if?” moments haven’t stopped coming and stories continue to demand attention.

About the author:
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 (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)
SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival,Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I don't often use imagery in my own writing, but I believe that when done well, it can be a powerful technique. In my most recent release from Lyrical Press, Devil's Honor, the main character Shiro faces a difficult challenge: assassinate someone close to him, or be forced to take his own life in shame.

A recurring image I use to represent Shiro's struggle is the yin-yang, a Chinese symbol that concerns dualities, opposing natures, and balance. This is (I hope) a powerful image, because it relates to Shiro in many ways - the deadly decision he faces through orders from his employer, the nature of his own personality split between fighter and scholar, and the unresolved issues with his childhood friend Kirei, who's made a sudden and unexpected reappearance in his life.

Here is a rare-for-me descriptive scene from Devil's Honor that illustrates this concept.

In the daylight, the still and silent grounds surrounding the Harada mansion were alien to Shiro, like a forgotten dream. He had lived so long in the night world that the tranquil majesty of the place he called home escaped him.

Here in the gardens, the only sounds were the trill of water over rocks rushing into the nearby pond of brightly colored koi and the occasional sweet notes of sparrows and starlings from the surrounding foliage. The air was heavy with the perfume of summer greenery in full bloom; kissed with the salt tang of the surrounding ocean. To his left, shafts of sunlight filtered through the trees, casting lacy filigrees of shadow on the patterned sand of Aiko Harada’s Zen rock garden. A wrought-iron bench rested alongside its border, offering shade and solace to those who sought it.

Yet solace eluded Shiro. Even here, amid absolute serenity.

He was due to be at the west dojo soon, to meet Serizawa and Piper for his first day of “training” in security. He was not looking forward to the reminder of all that had been taken away from him. Distracted, he wandered the winding stone path and failed to notice the figure in black watching him.

He approached the pond and stopped, absently tracking the foot-long shining bodies of gold and orange, white and black, as they darted gracefully just beneath the surface of the water. The koi seemed to sense his presence there. They swam as one to the edge of the pond, wriggling over and under one another in a frenetic cluster of flashing scales. Hoping for food pellets, no doubt.

Shiro envied them their uncomplicated existence. If he was ordered to commit seppuku, he wished to be reincarnated as an ornamental fish.

The thought evoked a rueful smile. He dropped to his haunches and stretched a hand out toward the churning surface of the pond, mesmerized by the mass of motion the fish created.

“Careful. They bite when they are hungry.”

Shiro rose and turned in one motion toward the voice that sounded behind him, ready to rail at whomever had intruded on his solitude—and attack if it should prove to be an enemy. But across the path was a woman in black silk, standing at ease with a mischievous smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Kirei.” The tension left him, and he let his arms fall to his sides. “What are you doing here?”

“Such a pleasant greeting for the girl who saved your life.” She moved toward him, and she seemed to float rather than walk, as nothing stirred on the ground beneath her feet. Putting a hand on his arm, she said, “My blood travels through your veins now, akuma. Remember that.”

“Do not call me that,” he said, harsher than he meant. The look of dismay she sent made him hasten to add, “Please. I cannot...please. Today, I am Shiro.”

The impish smile returned. “And tomorrow?”

His features darkened in exasperation. “Oh, Kirei,” he sighed. “I thought you had grown up.”

“Me? Never.” She looked past him and down at the koi, who were still pulsating madly in unison at the water’s edge. “That one is my favorite...see? The white and black one. There is a shape just above his left fin, the symbol of yin and yang. He is lucky.”

Shiro snorted and refused to turn around.

“Still so serious.” Kirei shook her head in mock pity. “Have you not learned to lighten up, even in America?”

“There is nothing light about this country, Kirei.”

She didn’t respond. Instead, she sighed and tugged at his arm. “Come on,” she said, starting down the path that led back to the mansion.

Shiro followed without thinking.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How Do You Know When...'ve spent too much time with little ones?

Last week on Mother's Day, in addition to a special card I made for my wife, I bought her a bottle of wine from one of our local wineries, Hunt Country. I'd been there a few years ago for a "mystery tour" book signing, and had the pleasure of meeting their gorgeous dog, "Gus." Of course, it was a special treat, since my main character in LeGarde Mysteries is Gus LeGarde. I arrived early for the event, and this wonderful dog followed me on a long walk through the vineyards. I just found out that Gus, a Bernese Mountain Dog, passed away and the new label, "Sweet Gus," is a rose' in memory of him. Sniff. He was so lovely.

Anyway, I bought a bottle of "Sweet Gus" for my wife, and when my daughter offered to go get it for us in the other room, I said, "Get the bottle with the D-O-G on the label."

My wife looked at me and smiled. "What, I can't spell now?"

I'd been spelling all week around the kids, in spite of the fact that my oldest grandson now knows how to spell almost everything. And what? I didn't think my wife would know what I was talking about? I laughed so hard at my idiocy that it took me a half hour to stop the tears and chuckles. I'm such a dope!


And how do you know when you've become too close with your dog?

When every time you leave the house - to mow the lawn, to get the mail, or to go food shopping - he jumps all over you like you've been gone for weeks. And on top of that, Balto has now taken to raiding my dirty laundry basket. Yup. You guessed it. When I'm gone, he drags out my jeans, tee shirts, socks, and underwear. He lays his head on these smelly treasures and growls when anyone comes near them.

What's he telling me?

That he'll be really upset when I start my new job in a few weeks.

Drat. I don't know how he'll get through it...

As happy as I am that I'm now employed again... I'm going to miss my family and this big brown eyed goofball.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Writer's Digest 101 Best Sites

Yesterday after dinner I drove over to the local Books A Million store to check out magazines since they have a good sampling. I figured it was getting time for the awards to start rolling out for the Best 101 Sites, and lo and behold, there we were on page 60.

We couldn't get this award without our fans and followers so we want to thank YOU, our reader. Once the new gold badge of honor arrives in the old mailbox, we will post it over in our sidebar so you can see what your faithfulness has wrought.

I never knew being a part of a group blog could be so fun, so educational, or so important. So, thank you, very very much.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nearly There In the Process

It’s 10:30 AM in my neck of the woods and I just realized I haven’t yet posted today. This would make three weeks in a row I haven’t for those who are counting. But … my time hasn’t been spent in silly idleness. Nope. Lately, my mind has been totally into the writing of my third novel, SHROUD OF LIES.

With two books under my belt, I’ve paid more attention to how I organize my writing this time around. This book is actually two stories wrapped into one so I’ve been particularly watchful of blending them well so as not to confuse the reader.

I’ve also learned that I write in layers. In fact, in other articles I’ve compared my writing process to oil painting. You know, start with a blank canvas, add the base coat of paint to the background, add the images, then slowly begin to show depth and perspective through light and shadows.

One very important thing I picked up this time around is that it’s absolutely okay, if not vital, to walk away from the writing for days or weeks when necessary. It clears my mind and energizes me so when I return, I can easily solve the problem sections that were giving me fits. In fact, I’m enjoying the process so much now that I don’t feel particularly rushed to finish it and this, I hope, is a positive sign. I’m not saying that this will take years for me to complete—more like months, but the plot is complex and can’t be rushed. I also have a tough time turning off the internal editor. Right or wrong, I can’t help reading each chapter several times before feeling I’m ready to move on to the next.

The first draft is the shell of the story—the nuts and bolts of introducing characters and what’s going to happen in this book. I threw in everything I could possibly think of into it and often repeated the information in several chapters just so I wouldn’t forget. It was during the first read that I noticed the repetitive statements. Those redundancies were the first thing to go. That’s also when I begin to pepper it with clues. Character development begins with the first draft as well, but for me it’s an ongoing process. As the story develops, my characters face numerous challenges and each one can add or change their motivations.

I’ve kept most of the clues I started with, but a few that seemed brilliant at first turned out to be nothing more than bulk in the end. The thing is, I may have a good idea of the direction my story is going to take, but it’s not until I’ve edited the pages several times that I get a handful of “aha” moments and realize that some clues will never work or are too complicated to pursue, while others are just plain (okay, can I say it?) genius.

SHROUD OF LIES is around 71,000 words at the moment and thanks to my crit partners, Kim Smith and Aaron Lazar, those “aha” moments have been coming in quick succession. It’s at this point in the writing that it’s fun for me. This is when I can see the logic in what I’ve written—when all the pieces fall neatly into place. It’s doubly rewarding when my readers laugh, cringe, or bite their nails when they’re supposed to.

As a writer of mystery/suspense—a lover of complex plots, one of the toughest things for me is to hold back and keep the suspense going, to squeeze it out in bits and pieces as long as I possibly can before the great reveal. So, imagine my evil laugh when the readers are a few thousand words from the end and haven’t yet guessed whodunit.

About the author:
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 (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery),
Personal site:  
Personal blog:  
Collective blog:  
Blog: /
Character Blog:  

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Being Blonde

Hi, my name is S. W. Vaughn, and I'm a blonde.

You've all heard at least one "blonde joke" in your life. Stereotypically, blondes are air-headed, spaced out, and ... kinda dumb. Of course, this isn't true (I mean, Neil Patrick Harris is more or less blonde, and he's a freakin' genius) - but no matter what color your hair is, everyone has "blonde moments."

I believe writers have them often. We train our minds to concentrate on certain things, and a lot of the time, reality flies right over our heads. This makes us seem - well, blonde. A little spacey. Somewhat out there.

We may be out of our minds, but we'll be back in five minutes.

While I'm on the subject, I'm ready to confess a memorable blonde moment of mine. It has nothing to do with writing, but it is funny. Here's the story:

My sister, who is also blonde, called me from work (this is important to remember: she called me). She was having a bad day - she'd lost her phone, and then she lost her glasses. Naturally, she panicked and looked everywhere.

She finally decided to seek assistance. She approached one of the cashiers (she's a district manager for Byrne Dairy convenience stores), and said, "Have you seen my glasses?"

The cashier, no doubt struggling mightily against a laugh, informed her that she had - and they were on her face.

At this point in the conversation, my sister and I both cracked up. We're blonde and we know it. The laughter finally died down, and - remember, she called me from work, and I do have caller ID - I turned one blonde moment into the ulimate blonde joke by asking, in all seriousness:

"Did you ever find your phone?"

After what I'd said hit me, we were done. We were laughing so hard, we could barely say good-bye and hang up.

Yes, I'm a blonde, and I'm proud. *G*

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Tribute to Editors

© Jackie Fullerton 2010 all rights reserved

Ed∙i∙tor n (1649)

1: an absolute necessity in any writer’s life
Okay, I made it up. The dictionary defines editor as “a person who edits material for publication, films, etc.” My definition is closer to the truth. A truth I did not always recognize.

When I completed the final chapter of my first murder mystery (Piercing the Veil), I patted myself on the back. After months of writing and revising, I felt very self-satisfied. I asked a publisher friend to read it. She said she liked the story and the protagonist. Then she asked if I had considered working with an editor. Her comment took my breath away. I am a well-educated attorney and have been a college professor for many years. Surely, I know how to write. Why would I need an editor?

A reasonable person (sometimes), I regained my composure and asked Beth Rubin, the editor my friend had recommended, to look at my manuscript.

What an eye-opener.

The simple truth is that editors help writers raise their work to a higher level. My friend told me something that I have repeated to several of my author friends: The ability to tell a story is a gift. A gift that writers should cherish and nurture. However, the ability to look at a manuscript and ferret out the typos, inconsistencies, hyperbole, etc., is the gift of a good editor. For those of you who possess both talents, hats off to you. (However, I urge you not to become complacent. I’ve learned that writers cannot objectively edit their own writing.)

In law school I had taken classes in legal writing. But I have never taken a creative writing class. Let’s say I learned on the job while crafting my first novel. I assumed that in a classroom setting, writers learned the disciplines my editor painstakingly shared with me. Simple things, like one space between sentences—not two. And that darn comma/period goes inside the end quotation mark, not outside. In the heat of writing, I put the comma/period outside the quotation mark over and over and over—much to the chagrin of my editor. (In my defense, I noticed that the British style requires placing commas and periods outside the quotation marks.) Oh well, I’m not in England.

My editor pointed out my obsession with the word “was.” When I used it ten times on a single page, she threatened to fine me in the future. Try writing an entire page without using the word “was.” Trust me, when facing a monetary loss, it can be done.

And what about the proper use of an ellipsis? When a character’s words or thoughts are incomplete, those three little dots come in handy. Especially when I’m writing in the voice of my impatient protagonist, Anne Marshall, whose thoughts frequently drift. I wondered, do you put three dots or four? Do you put spaces between them? And what about …

Mysteries have their own set of rules. A “get-to-the-point” style versus more flowery writing found in many other genres. My natural style was flowery (a polite term for “wordy,” I learned). Together we worked on this. Because of my legal background, my sentences tended to be long and complex. My editor had no trouble breaking one sentence into two or three. And she was right. The narrative read better.

The habit I had the most difficulty breaking: overwriting. I cluttered my prose with superfluous adverbs and adjectives, like the multi-layered flourishes in a Jackson Pollock painting. With the help of my editor I can now show, not tell what’s going on and what a character is feeling. Instead of “He was really angry,” I wrote, “His face reddened and the veins in his neck protruded.”

Sometimes her comments were humorous and I would laugh out loud. In describing a love scene I had written, “He admired her amazing breast.” Beth queried, “What is so amazing about her breast—does she have three?”

While editing my first and second books (Revenge Served Cold), I think I have learned more than any creative writing class could have taught me. And my editor and I have developed a wonderful friendship and mutual respect. Her patience is never-ending.

My advice to any new author is to find a good editor and listen to every word of advice you receive. Don’t take the criticism personally. It is intended to improve your writing and mold your wonderful story into a great one.

I recently attended a mystery writers’ conference. The speaker was an agent who stressed the importance of sending all work through the editing process before even considering submission. I looked around. Heads nodded in agreement. They understood the truth that I, as a novice author, took a long time to learn.

I raise a glass to editors everywhere. They accept the challenge of helping writers like me to take a raw manuscript and transform it into something worthy of publishing.

About the author:

Ohio native Jackie Fullerton is a successful businesswoman and attorney. She, her husband Tom and their dog, Flash divide their time between the Columbus, Ohio area and Florida. She is also the author of Piercing the Veil.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Writing Challenge: Rippling Wheat

Dear friends: Today I want to spent the day honoring the mother of my children. ;o) So I thought I'd post this very cool video I took yesterday, while walking on Davis Road with my daughter. These rolling hills overlook the Genesee Valley in Upstate New York, just west of the Finger Lakes. Mute your sound, because the wind (which took down a big tree in my yard last night!) was soooo loud and that's tough to capture on a camera video. But the visual is so calming and beautiful, it's worth it!

So, here's the deal. It the mood strikes you, write 100 words about this rippling wheat field. Anything is game - fantasy, poetry, mystery... whatever works for you!

Have fun, and for those of you who are mom's (particularly S.W., Marta, and Kim!), HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Arguing Both Sides of a Case:The Challenges of Constructing a Legal Thriller

© Douglas Corleone 2010 all rights reserved

A few years ago, I left the practice of law because I found the profession too stressful. I left the dark streets of New York for the bright sands of Hawaii, intent on taking life easy. I was determined, as many are, to make a career of my favorite hobby - writing.

But what to write? Well, I realized it was the novels of authors like John Grisham, Scott Turow, and Steve Martini that led me to law school in the first place. I’d studied law, practiced for several years in New York City, read and dissected every legal thriller I ever came across, and loved the genre, so the choice seemed clear. So from my 23rd floor lanai overlooking Waikiki Beach, I set out to write my first legal thriller, which would become my debut novel, ONE MAN’S PARADISE (Minotaur, April 2010).

That’s when I first realized writing a courtroom drama wasn’t nearly as easy as Grisham makes it seem. This time I wasn’t just preparing a defense; I was preparing a prosecution, too. And not only that - I was also deciding which objections would be sustained, which would be overruled. In other words, in addition to playing District Attorney and Defense Lawyer, I was playing Judge, too. But I couldn’t do any of that before taking the first step - planning a near perfect crime. Near perfect, because I had to leave clues for the police and my investigators to find. Yes, I was playing Criminal, too.

As difficult as it is preparing a case for trial, it’s even more daunting having to argue both sides of a case. Any lawyer will tell you that they’d much rather go up against a talented adversary than an inept one. See, having a talented adversary, you can better predict their moves. Getting pit against a dullard, well, who knows what’s going to happen? And who knows what a jury will do? The twelve men and women seated in the box just might feel sorry for your foe. And if you do too good a job beating up on your sympathetic adversary, the jury just might turn on you. And your client.

As the writer of a legal thriller, you must set the tone of the trial. There is no sitting back and simply reacting to what the other side does. You are the other side. At a glance, this might seem beneficial. But once you’ve thought it through, you’ll undoubtedly recognize the dilemma. See, lawyers don’t like to lose. Not even in fiction.

So once you’ve developed these characters you care for - this down-on-his-luck-defense lawyer, this overly-ambitious yet well-meaning prosecutor - you want them both to succeed. It pains you when they screw up. But three-quarters into the novel you realize, one of these guys fighting tooth-and-nail for what they believe in ultimately has to lose.

One of your guys (or girls) has to take one for the team, has to throw the fight. And that’s not easy for any lawyer, let alone a fictitious one that is a proud product of your mind, to do. But the reader wants an outcome. A mistrial just won’t do. Justice must be served, but don’t be fooled. Justice is not the goal of any attorney I’ve ever come up against. In the law, it’s not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose.

That’s not to mention all the work that needs to be done. Each of your lawyers must act as a respectable attorney would. Each side must prepare a case, draft and defend motions, read legal precedents, comfort his client or aid a victim’s grieving family. Each side must eventually step into that fictitious courtroom, confident of a win but prepared to lose. Whether the reader will “hear” opening statements in part or in their entirety, it doesn’t matter; opening statements must be prepared. Witness lists must be exchanged and each witness subjected to direct and cross examination. And remember, as a writer of legal thrillers, you must play the role of each witness, too. You must know your motivations, must know when to lie and when to tell the truth. It can be a dizzying experience.

The best advice for constructing a legal thriller may well be to outline the entire book before sitting down to write, but I fear a courtroom drama written that way will not ring true. After all, trials are anything but predictable. I’d rather take my shot at a roulette wheel in Vegas than a courtroom in Manhattan any day of the week.

So my advice is to let the trial play itself out on the page. Know which witnesses you are going to call, but give them leeway as to what they will say. Let them surprise you. That way, they will surprise your readers, too.

As for the jury’s final verdict, well, your guess is as good as mine. But do keep mind that juries don’t always get it right. Seldom do juries ever get the whole truth.

In writing your legal thriller, I say, toss away all notions of justice and fair play, and let your two lawyers have at it. Let them passionately argue their respective cases day and night in your mind. Let it get personal. Because, for lawyers, it often does.

And at the conclusion of the hard-fought trial, after the verdict is read, the prosecutor and defense lawyer don’t need to shake hands. In fact, as soon as you type “the end” on your manuscript, immediately begin a new one. And while the fire is still raging, the bad blood still boiling, let the two have at it again. Let them tear each other to pieces.

About the book:
ONE MAN'S PARADISE, winner of the 2009 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award, was released on Tuesday, April 27, 2010, by St. Martin's Press. The story centers around disgraced criminal defense attorney Kevin Corvelli, who flees Manhattan for Honolulu, only to learn that Paradise can be every bit as lethal as the City that Never Sleeps. At its heart, ONE MAN'S PARADISE is a riveting tale of failure resulting from professional apathy, and the ultimate search for redemption.

About the author:

My website can be found at

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Catchy openings

Openings, Hook the Reader
by Kim Smith

In my first attempt to be catchy with my writing, I attended a workshop that taught writers how to hook a reader in the first few lines of the book or story.

This sounds far easier to do than it is, I soon found out. It can be done though and I am here to offer a couple thoughts on the matter.

The best way to find out HOW to make your beginning catchy, or with a hook, is to read others and see how they did it.

I pulled down a few books from the shelf and am posting the first lines here for you.

From Harry Potter:
Mr. And Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

From Jaws2:
A flattened, blood-red sun rose dead ahead.

From The Education of Little Tree:
Ma lasted a year after Pa was gone.

From The Practice:
The rain had begun at noon in Pocatello and followed them north for the next nine hours, a steady, pounding deluge.

I have heard from a lot of people that beginning your book or story with weather is a bad idea. Apparently these famous authors never heard that advice. However, I do suggest being a bit more active in the opener, and sometimes weather doesn’t get it for the reader.

Another way to elicit excitement in your opening is to start with dialog. For me, this will do it every time.

The all time best opening for me came from Robin Burcell in her book “Cold Case” which begins, “Officer down! Officer down!”.

And from those words through the end of the scene, you hold onto the page with a death grip and you know you will never put that book down until you find out who was the officer, and why was he or she down.

I know there must be dozens of great ways to snag the reader in the first few words, sentences, and paragraphs. Perhaps you will offer your suggestions here in the comments.
Kim Smith’s latest release, A Mirror in Time is now available at Amazon as a print book. You can check it out HERE

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Signings - Do's and Do Not's

Next Wednesday, I'm having my first official book signing, at a local Barnes & Noble. I am at once excited and terrified (mostly, I'm terrified that the only people who will show up are my relatives - but I'm excited too, because I have a LOT of relatives!).

Since this is my first, I'm not entirely sure I'm qualified to give advice about them. But I'll tell you what I've heard - and maybe you can tell me what you've heard or experienced.

* Do show up on time.

* Do not expect the bookstore staff to actually know who you are and what you're doing there (apparently, they don't really care unless your name's J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer).

* Do plan to stay for as long as the signing lasts.

* Do not wear a mongoose costume (or other inappropriate clothing - this includes an inappropriate lack of clothing).

* Do smile and greet everyone, even if they're just asking you where the bathroom is.

* Do not sit behind the table for two hours. Stand up, make eye contact with wandering customers, and look as interesting as possible.

* Do bring a drink or two for yourself.

* Do not bring pets, bodyguards, ninja swords, or electronic devices bearing any resemblence to bombs.

That's all the fairly standard advice for book signing preparations I have at the moment. Here's a few extra things I'm planning to do for mine:

* Wear a shirt that says "I make stuff up" (in the hopes that I won't get too many people asking for bathroom directions).

* Bring a fancy bowl and free chocolate to fill it with (thank you, Aaron, for the great tip!).

* Set up my laptop on the table and have my book trailer open on it, so when people say "What's your book about?" I can say, "Watch this!" and click play.

* Arrange for plants (RE multiple family members) to arrive at various times and gush loudly about how awesome my book is (I can do this because my family is crazy, and I love every last nutty one of them).

Anyone have more book signing advice for me? I'd love to hear it!

Monday, May 3, 2010

What’s in a Name?

© Michael R. Stevens 2010 all rights reserved

There was a time in my writing career when names were very difficult for me. I would get stuck on a sentence for hours because it contained a reference to an as-yet-unnamed character. Nothing would come to mind in those situations, and the writing session would end with no work accomplished. Today, I don’t have that problem, and I actually enjoy the naming process. In this post, I’ll share my approach.

Most fundamentally, I think my naming process benefited from the discipline that comes from working in an ad agency for quite a few years. In a good ad, whether it’s an Internet banner or a TV commercial or the back cover of the New Yorker, every aspect of the imagery is crafted to “say” something. So, for example, if you’re selling a product for upscale consumers and the image portrays two women in a cafe, you dress the models and choose all the props to “say” upscale.

One day, I realized the obvious connection to names in fiction: I should pick names that “say” something about the character. And they always do, intentionally or not.

For starters, they tie a character to an ethnicity and region: white bread American, Italian, Jewish, from the South, African American, Middle Eastern, Asian, and so on. Names can “say” this, either loudly (“Ricky-Bobby,” the hero of the movie TALLADEGA NIGHTS) or softly (“Paola,” the heroine in my new high tech thriller, FORTUNA. It’s important for the plot to know she’s Italian).

Parents. Both outlandish and common names say something about a character’s parents, as do Biblical names, movie stars’ names and the names of historical personages. If both parents are college professors, they are not likely to name their daughter Sade. So, If I give a character that name, it makes a comment about her socio-economic status.

Age. Each generation has its own set of unique names, mixed in with others that span multiple generations. You can immediately know that Kylie and Tyler are a lot younger than Maude and Walter, while Moonbeam, with her hippie parents, is somewhere in the middle. Michael and Elizabeth could fit in anywhere.

Taking these factors into account puts parameters around the search for the right name – a big help, at least for me.

In addition, my characters’ names are often symbolic. I love names that mean something, but I confess I’m not always sure the ones I choose are over the top, or (as I hope) simply glance off the reader’s mind, leaving a subliminal impression.

In FORTUNA, my hero chases after a sorority queen he can never hope to win over. Her name: Laura Pride. It’s a plausible name, but perhaps too obvious. His name, Jason, is a reference to the hero of Greek mythology who must find his way through the labyrinth to find the golden fleece. In this case, even though the Jason in my book must find his way through a labyrinth of computer code to discover the secret of his father’s death, I don’t think one reader in ten thousand will make a connection with the mythical Jason. And the name he takes when he gets involved in the online role-playing game that gives the book its title, Allesandro da Scala (Allesandro “of the ladder”).... Well, it reminds me of the social climbing that is his central character flaw, but I doubt that readers will see that, even if they speak Italian.

In that case, why bother? Why not pick names that just sound good? The answer is, using symbolic references helps me get to the right name. And sometimes, a name can be of crucial importance, as it is in FORTUNA when... but then, I don’t want to spoil the plot for you.

About the author:
Michael Stevens has worked as a writer all his life, starting as the music columnist for his hometown newspaper when he was in high school. He owned a successful high tech advertising agency in Silicon Valley for many years, and now freelances from his home office, mostly for very large companies with a global presence. He is a serious amateur musician and has produced four CDs.
Web site:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Can you tell someone else's story?

We all love to write fiction. Well, at least that's what S.W., Marta, Kim and I do here at MB4. It's gratifying, it can be spontaneous, and it whisks us away to worlds we can actually control. When our characters let us, that is. ;o) But there's immense satisfaction about having SOME control in life, even if it's over your own characters and their lives.

But how do you feel about writing someone else's story? Could you be a ghost writer? Could you do spec writing, following someone else's well defined plot and using their characters?

Some writers turn their noses up at the idea, offended that they would ever be asked to write something not of their mind. Until recently, I would have thought it was a horrible idea. Granted, I've written fourteen books and loved every second of it, and I feel somewhat sated. I have more books on the burner, plenty more, but for a change, I decided to try something new.

I actually enjoyed the process immensely, and for a while it was nice not to have to envision each scene and make sure it all fit. Instead, I just wrote the scenes. Because the story was damn good, it was fun. Hmm. I'm not sure what that means about me, but it was illuminating. And I stretched my wings a bit in a new direction as a writer, which isn't a bad thing.

As much as we jealously protect and horde our characters and stories, there can be a time in a writer's life when it's okay to step out of his/her comfort zone and try something new. ;o)

Let me know what you think of the idea? Have you ever written anyone else's story? How did it feel?

Regardless of your experiences, remember to take pleasure in the little things, and write like the wind!

-  Aaron