Saturday, January 29, 2011

And then there was... a circular story.

My writing process has taken bizarre twists and turns over the years. Having chatted with many of you over the years, I know we've all experienced this in our own fashion.

We ask for and accept counsel that changes our lives, perhaps even our writing styles. It's this coveted advice that we hope advances us to the next level, toward the elusive goal of mastering the art of writing mysteries.

Sound familiar?

Sometimes our advisers' opposing viewpoints and various bits of advice can push us in literal and literary circles. Here's my circular story. ;o)

In the early days of my writing, my mentor, Mr. Ray Edinger, author of Fury Beach, advised me that using gerunds, or "ing" verbs, was not exactly the best approach to the craft, and that I should attempt to use more past tense ("ed") verbs instead. Ray is a wonderful guy, and I was most grateful for all his advice during those early years. Here's his book - a fascinating look into history in the Arctic.

I can't remember specific examples, but I probably wrote things like this:

He was walking toward the woods when he heard the crash.

Now, there's nothing sinfully wrong with that sentence. But if every sentence starts out with a "to be" verb (was) and an "ing" verb, it might get tedious. Some people call the frequent "was" constructions "a bad case of the wuzzies." But that's another story for another day. My current mentor, Sonya Bateman, cured me of that one long ago. Ha.

Anyway, heeding Ray's advice, I listened like a good Doobie and purged every "ing" verb from all the as yet unpublished books I'd already written. 

Shortly thereafter, after taking a break from the whole thing, I reread the manuscripts and found using all "ed" verbs to be somewhat stilted and boring, so I went back and repopulated a few "ing" verbs among the others. The prose sounded much more natural.

Next, I received a comment in one of my writing forums (anyone remember the Crabby Cows? LOVED them!) that floored me. A fellow writer said that using "as,"(for example, he did this AS something else happened) was a sure sign of an amateur, and that if an editor came across a book with such "as" constructions in it, he or she would toss it immediately to the slush pile!

Petrified I'd be cast in this terrible light, I steered away from having my characters doing something "as" another thing was happening, and replaced it with actions separated by commas, a few well-placed "ands," and quite a few "thens," to show the series of actions. Of course, since then, I've noticed plenty of "as" constructions in best selling authors. Nobody seems to object.

Next, I got advice from a writing forum that using "then" was as bad as "as." The coveted advice was pronounced:  use "and" instead of "as" to link two actions, instead of having multiple terse statements or tons of comma separated actions. 

I didn't think that sounded right in all the applications, especially when my characters couldn't be doing all this stuff simultaneously, so I eventually asked a few writers (big successful ones) who said "then" was just fine, and that they used it all the time. 

Is your head spinning yet? Mine sure was. 

So I ended up using lots of sentences like this:

Sam dried his hands with a paper towel, then skirted round the table to pour two glasses of juice from the pitcher. 

Now, to complicate matters, recently two of my new Beta readers read through a few of my manuscripts and noticed I used an awful lot of "he did this, then he did that..." constructions. It bothered my friend Sonia Martinez so much that she started highlighting all of them.

I almost threw my hands in the air, having agonized over the alternatives for almost ten years. 

I know, I know. That sounds ridiculous. But believe me, it tortured me and I thought I'd finally found a suitable solution a few years back.

THEN (LOL), Nancy Robinson, my newest Beta reader and a great friend from my old days at Kodak, suggested I replace some of the the "then" constructions with a verb ending in "ing." 

Here's an example of what the above sentence might look like now:

Sam dried his hands with a paper towel, skirting round the table to pour two glasses of juice from the pitcher.  

Here's another example: 
Roberta disappeared, then returned with a sparkling amber crystal.

Her simple solution:  

Roberta disappeared, returning with a sparkling amber crystal.  

It sounds pretty natural, doesn't it? Uh huh. And here we are, full circle, back to "ing" verbs!

I know, it's not exactly the same, but it's kind of amusing, regardless.

And who knows, maybe it was the way I used to write it before I started to worry about all the advice I was getting early on. Not that I didn't appreciate it, more than I can ever say. And not that I didn't need TONS of advice back then, of course.

I have to tell you, I love Nancy's suggestion. I know it probably sounds mundane and ridiculously obvious, but see, I had trained myself out of using "ing" words so much that my brain subconsciously avoided it. So now - I think - I'm temporarily satisfied.

For now, anyway. 

Funny thing is, no matter what stage my writing has been in, from Double Forte' to Healey's Cave, my readers don't seem to notice or care what construction I use. I don't think they notice at all. They just want a good story. And maybe that's all that matters. (but try to convince my brain of that... it's not easy for this OCD writer...)

Thanks for listening to me rant today, and if you love to write, remember to write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Useful content for our readers

Murder by 4 is one of the favorite mystery/suspense sites on the Internet. We've earned a couple of good awards and have hosted a number of best-selling authors.

How did we do it? And how can you replicate our efforts to get traffic to your own site?

Well, first we bring to you, the reader, new, useful content. We have limited the posts to things writers and readers need and use, in hopes this will keep you coming back. So far it has been working! If you want to generate a buzz, make it something discussion-worthy.

Also, we keep posting regularly, so you always have new fresh content to digest. It is never a challenge because our weekly posts average around 350 words. That allows you time to zip in and fill up and surf away without a lot of commitment. But on Mondays and Fridays we allow our guests a wee bit more posting room as much as 1500 words, and that's always a truly inspiring post where you get inside a published author's world. For your own blog, you could do interviews with your favorite authors. Believe me, people will come!

Some of the things we have had on Mb4 have included articles, and character sketches, and links to fun sites. Well, I am happy to say that in 2011 we will be bringing you a lot of other fun things too like short stories, and word games to tweak your muse, and serialized posts that will have you bouncing back to us to get the information! Be sure to tell your friends, won't you?

We know that our readers like to get to know us too, so there is a good deal of info in our sidebar on where you can go out and seek us in cyberspace. We all have websites, personal blogs, and of course we are on Facebook!

If you haven't followed the Mb4 gang, go out and do that, won't you?

A few other things that you can do for your own site that we don't do here due to lack of time and space, is have a forum on your site where you can build a fan base. Writer's forums are a great way to make friends and influence people. And also, there are always people looking for free things. Give away something! Free content rules!

Above all, have fun and connect with your readers. I just did!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

To Advertise, Promote or Market Your Book?

© Marta Stephens 2011 all rights reserved

For a writer, a key element to success is building relationships and networking with others in the writing/publishing business. It’s what gets us out of that solitary existence and through the various stages of writing/editing. Hard work will eventually lead to publication and, in due course, drive “the buzz” for that exciting new release.

The goal—the end result, of course, is sales, but is it enough to slap a link on our website or blog and direct readers to buy our books? Think again.

Advertising = Information.
It’s what you say about yourself or pay someone to say about you and/or your book. We see advertisements in the local newspapers, on billboards, in phone books, and on the front of paper placemats at a local diner. Think about a recent TV commercial. I’ll use a couple of car insurance companies that are currently competing for customers. Company “A” allows the customer to name their price and the amount of coverage. Company “B” warns that naming your price/coverage may not cover the evil mayhem that could be waiting to happen. If you’re not in the market to buy insurance, would either of these commercials convince you to switch your coverage? Probably not.

A writer advertises (shows their skills) through his or her writings in blog and/newsletters which grants readers an insider’s perspective as to who the author is and what drove him or her to write the book. As enlightening as it may seem, and yes, advertising is a necessary first step, it is only information. At this point, the writer is merely informing readers of the who, what, and how, but it won’t be enough to move readers to part with their hard earned money.

Let’s go back to insurance companies “A” and “B” and assume you’re now looking to switch companies for better coverage. If a someone whose opinion you trust tells you he’s bought policies from both companies and thinks “B” is a better buy, what’s that do to your level of confidence in the product? That friend or neighbor unwittingly did a little public relations for company “B.”

Public Relations = persuasion.
PR is what others say about you or your book to persuade opinion. A publicist will develop a media kit that includes the author’s photo, bio, book cover, blurb, list of awards, details about the book (price, ISBN, release date, name of publisher), quotes from reviews, etc., to persuade interviewers, radio hosts, bloggers, reviewers, and others who are in positions to help expose the publicist’s client in a favorable light.

Book reviews and reader comments/ratings posted about your book may not be the absolute make or break deal to the reader, but chances are reading several good reviews or hearing positive word-of-mouth reader comments may persuade the perspective reader interested in our genre to take the next step. They’ll check out your site, read the blurb and/or excerpt, consider your previous writing experiences/successes/awards, and (glory be) might be moved to buy the book.

Another aspect of public relation is damage control. Okay, so we’re all human, we get tired and cranky, and mistakes happen. But once a writer is published and begins to speak in public and attends book signings and conferences, they are (whether they like it or not) in the public eye. Every word said, written, or posted, every action will be scrutinized by readers. Damage control is what you, the author (or your publicist) will need to do to turn a negative situation around and hopefully regain readers’ confidence.

Marketing = process of delivering information.

It may seem as if there were fine lines between advertising, public relations, and marketing, but each has a separate role to play and authors need to include all three in their promotional plans. According to the American Marketing Association, “… marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Marketing focuses on the target audience (readers of a particular genre). The book is the product, is it priced appropriately? Is it readily available in bookstores and online and downloadable in various formats? Finally, has it been thoroughly promoted by the author, the publicist, the publisher?

It’s hard to pin-point what will draw a reader’s attention. Will it be the author’s amazing journey, his or her approachability, the great writing, the rave reviews, interesting interview, or awesome cover that pulls them in? In truth, it’ll be a combination of all of the above done in a continuous and consistent matter that will ultimately result in continued sales.

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes mystery/suspense and the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series. Her novels are available in paperback, Kindle, and all electronic formats.. For more information about Stephens and her writing, visit 

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).

"Life's too Uncertain, Eat your Dessert First"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Word Riddle

I don’t know who to acknowledge for this little riddle (someone e-mailed the link to me), but it’s pretty amazing.

Here goes:
What common English word is nine letters long and each time you remove one letter from it, it still remains an English word from the nine letters all the way down to a single remaining word?

…remove the “l” and you have,

…remove the “t” and you have,

…remove the “a” and you have,

…remove the “r” and you have,

…remove the “t” and you have,

…remove the “g” and you have,

…remove the “s” and you have,

…remove the “n” and you have,

All of these are English words. Watch video here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Short, Tight & To The Core

© Marta Stephens 2011 all rights reserved

Several years ago, I wrote a number of short stories. Some were published online in a writer’s forum. Most of them, however, got filed away and were quickly forgotten after I began writing novels.

This past year, I toyed with the idea of dusting them off and seeing if I could turn them into something worth sharing with readers. Unfortunately, that’s as far as my interest/effort went until last week when I received an e-mail asking for submissions to a writing contest.

I thought about it for a minute or two and decided that since the deadline isn’t until late spring I’d have time to work on it. After all, I liked the story, thought it had potential, and it was certainly worth the try.  Unfortunately, this task would prove to not be as easy as it initially appears to be. The maximum word count for the contest is 4,000—most of my shorts are between 5,000 and 8,000 words. The one I had in mind to rewrite was around 8,500. Never the less, I was definitely up for the challenge.

The characters in “Seeds of Murder” include the body of the wealthy widow, a hard-nosed detective, the devoted housekeeper, the greedy grown children of the dearly departed, and of course, the femme fatale!

Now, for someone who enjoys expanding stories into 90,000 words or more, cutting 4,000 words from what was an already abridged storyline seemed impossible. In truth, however, it proved to be a valuable exercise. It not only helped tighten my prose, but it helped me to focus on the plot. I constantly caught myself asking if this line or that line was really necessary. Would it make or break the plot if I cut it out? Surprisingly, 99.9 percent of the time they were worthless words that added more bulk than wow.

The first things I cut were the lovely, rambling and totally unnecessary sections of imagery, long-winded descriptions, over-used tags and bites, and a whole lot of glancing around by the characters.

I also considered the structure. Beginnings are always difficult for me to decide. Where does the story begin? While the character is walking toward the building, as he’s stepping through the door, or after he’s in? Eventually I figure it out, but in this case, the original opening paragraph was 150 words long (8 lines) describing the scenery and the stately home from the protag's point of view as he's driving toward the scene of the crime. That’s right, 150 words before we read the first bit of dialogue. To make things worse, I wrote 368 words before giving the protagonist his first line. Yikes! The revised opening paragraph is a mere shadow of it at 45 words including the first four words of dialogue. I’m even considering cutting all but the dialogue and opening the story with, “The body’s upstairs, detective.” I don’t know…what do you think? Maybe not. At any rate, I still have just over 1,000 words left cut. After that it’ll be a matter of fine tuning each sentence and making those 4,000 little words count.

What’s truly amazing, is that in spite of the drastic cuts, the storyline is still there. It’s really there and I’m loving it.

Everything else was obviously fluff.

About the author:

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available in paperback and e-book and Kindle formats.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 978-1-905202-886-7
Tradebook: $15.99
E-book: $9.00 from Smashwords  

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 798-1-905202-72-0
Tradebook: $15.50
E-book: $9.00 from Smashwords

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Short Stories For Fun and Profit

Recently, my good friend Marta and I were discussing pulling out old short stories and revamping them for the reading public.

I think this is a good topic to post on Mb4 because as I have said before, about my own short stories you can get ahead as a writer of novels by publishing short stories first.

It keeps the fire fueled for writing as well, I might mention. Which is what I am going to be doing for a time as my third Shannon Wallace book is under consideration.

My laptop has died also, so I am going to be working on a computer that has no true office software. I am going to have to download the OpenOffice stuff. If you use it, do you like it?

Anyway, let's all pen something this week, even if it sucks. WE are WRITERS! Hear us roar!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Book Review: Pervalism, by M.E Ellis

Hi, folks.

Following is a review for one of the early books of a very prolific writer. Check out my review, and if you like it, support this her by buying a copy at the links provided below.
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! And remember, if you love to write, write like the wind!

-- Aaron

Title:   Pervalism
Author:   M.E Ellis
Publisher:   Wild Child Publishing
Publisher's Address: P.O. Box 4897, Culver City, CA, 90231-4897
ISBN number: 1-934069-21-3.
Price: $15.99 
Publisher phone number and/or website address:

By M.E Ellis
Review by Aaron Paul Lazar

Pervalism is a gripping journey into the tortured mind of serial killer John Brookes. Abused by an odious mother and adored by a doting father, Brookes’ psyche is scarred from childhood. His sins begin with animal torture, which gives him a weighty sense of power and a bizarre sensual release. Although the torture scenes were tough to read, the story beguiled this reader with ghoulish fascination and it was impossible not to read Pervalism in one sitting.

Pervalism is not for the faint of heart. Brookes’ vile behaviors escalate as he reaches his teen years. When his promiscuous mother bears a child, resultant from an affair, his jealousy erupts into obsessive rage. She appears to love the new baby. Yet Brookes is riddled with questions, ripped apart by the disparity. How could she have hated him so much, yet love the squalling baby who now rides in his old pram? His hostility and excessive envy push him to stalk her, and when opportunities ripen, he drives her to a ghastly deed.

Oddly enough, Brookes matures into a seemingly normal man who marries, has a child, and holds down a job as a hospital janitor. Yet, perhaps it isn’t really so strange, when one considers the current day killers who are unmasked and found to be living sedately in suburbia, reportedly considered “nice, quiet neighbors.”  Brookes holds out for several years without giving into his baser needs. The devil quiets when he learns to love his wife and son with ferocity.

When Brookes’ family is treated poorly, a rumbling sense of outrage collides with old feelings of violence and revenge, and the grisly deeds of his earlier life are perpetuated.

As the body count rises, Ellis exhibits a unique talent in her ability to provoke understanding and empathy for her homicidal protagonist. Brookes’ pain is palpable. His fears understandable. His rage predictable. Each time he kills anew, however, the horror escalates to unpredictable levels.

M.E’s skill is consummate. Her voice, consistent and eerie, will ensnare the most reticent reader. An English setting, the backdrop for Brookes’ heinous acts, provides a rich tapestry of British culture that weaves depth and a strong sense of place into the work. John Brookes becomes lifelike in this potent and unforgettable thriller. Watch the book trailer and purchase the book at:

Aaron Paul Lazar

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A villain, a villain, my kingdom for a villain!

How can you create a villain character and develop him fully if you are writing in first person? This question came up on another site not too long ago and some of the answers that were given were really interesting and worth a mention once again.

I write in first person, ninety-five percent of the time. It is very hard for the reader to visualize a villain that is not in the same scene as the main character because in first person the reader only knows what the character knows (also sees, hears etc.), but it CAN be done.

Some of the ways are through the eyes of a third person. You can learn a lot from the opinion of others (wink).

Say you have a woman who is being mean to another. What better way to find out what her deal is than to engage in conversation with the guy she’s recently dumped? Oh man, he could tell you a thing or two!

Or perhaps your main character is trying to solve a murder, so he is going around asking questions about the victim. Clue-gathering, eh? He is very likely going to hear about the villain sooner or later. Why? Because that person is at the bottom of it all! Someone has something to tell your main character because not every one is honorable and sometimes characters, even minor ones, turn out to be meanies.

So… that is my thought on this subject.

What other ways can someone convey the details of the villain character if they are writing in first person and the villain remains tucked off-screen?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kill the Character Before She Kills the Plot

© Marta Stephens 2011 all rights reserved

I’m almost certain that most writers have at least one manuscript that hangs over their heads year after year and refuses to die a peaceful death. Instead of the words flying onto the pages turning sentences into paragraphs and paragrahs into scenes, the plot moans in the dark tapping an unsettling beat inside our heads, whispering cruelties and nagging like a hangnail—a constant painful reminder of the writer's inadequacies.

I personally have more than one such book, but I’ve finally brushed away the cobwebs that have cluttered my mind these past few months and decided to rework one of my Harper books … again. Oh, I can hear the groans now!

I initially wrote Grave Witness as a novella around 2005 then placed it on the shelf while I worked on another project. I blew the dust from it in 2009 and struggled to work out the bugs throughout that year. It was finally starting to make sense, but Rhonie Lude, the new character I introduced into the plot began to take things over. Harper didn't much like that. Ironically, she became the protag in my next book, but Grave Witness remained a problem and at just over 45,000 words it's still not finished. 
I've always believe in the story, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the darn thing to sing.  I'd written myself into a corner and for the fifth or sixth time, I tossed it aside in frustration.  I realize now the culprits, the core of they problem were a few beloved characters (in addition to Lude) and scenes that were left over from my initial plot that insisted on being a part of this updated version. In other words, I was determined to make them fit into the new plot come hell or high water.

Looking back both hell and the waters did come.  It’s been over two years this time since I read that manuscript and although I still love those characters and scenes, I’ve finally found the courage to cut them out and try a new angle.

I’ve never been a fan of prologues because so often other than to explain the plot, they don't serve a purpose.  However, recently I read a few that have changed my mind. The author wrote them as snapshots into moments in time that altered the character’s lives—events that could never be changed nor ignored and kicked started the action in chapter one with another character who years later wanted to right a decisive wrong.

In Grave Witness, homicide detective Sam Harper is once again involved in solving a murder, that of Robert O’Malley, but inadvertently uncovers a lead into a fifty-five year old cold case. This past weekend I began to outline the revised plot, but as I worked on it, I realized my next challenge was to fill in the blanks of O'Malley's sketchy profile. After all, his past is the focal point of the story so I decided it (his story) would work well as the prologue.

I don’t know if I’ll use it, but the point in this exercise is to dig deeper into O’Malley’s past, find out who he was, what motivated his life, and what turn of events placed him on Harper’s roster five decades later.

Will it work?  Who knows? But maybe, just maybe this is the year I finish it!

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available in paperback and e-book and Kindle formats.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 978-1-905202-886-7
Tradebook: $15.99
E-book: $9.00 from Smashwords  

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 798-1-905202-72-0
Tradebook: $15.50
E-book: $9.00 from Smashwords

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Beta Readers

As a writer, who helps you check your manuscript before you submit it to your publisher or agent? Of course, your publisher will provide you with their own editor in the final stages, but before you submit, you want the work to be letter perfect, right?

Critique partners are hard to come by, especially those who work with you in the spirit you want - like someone who'll tell you if a scene isn't working, who'll find your dumb mistakes, but who doesn't try to prove how brilliant they are by crushing you with menial suggestions. And it's also hard to find someone who continues to work with you through thick and thin, over the years, consistently. Some folks are good for one book, or for a few chapters, but they peter out because of their own time limitations or new directions.

Once you find the perfect pal for this - hold onto them! I'm proud to say my partner for the past eight years has been Sonya Bateman, and I am the luckiest writer on this planet to have such a sweet, smart, and savvy friend to read my stuff when it pops out of my brain. I adore her writing, and consider her my hero. (Thanks, Kiddo!)

But beyond the serious critique partners, we really need a stable of readers from what I call my "Inner Circle" to go through and read our manuscripts to help us find stupid typos, inconsistencies, etc. I call them Beta Readers. I try to have anywhere from five to ten people at a time help me with this task. Usually they like my work anyway, and want a "sneak peek" at the next novel to be released. So they get a special invite, I always thank them in the acknowledgments, plus they get a free copy of the book.

I recently sent out a newsletter with a request for some more Beta Readers. The results have set my head reeling, because I'm so impressed with the quality of edits and comments I'm getting from folks. It interests me greatly that their perspectives can be so different, yet the value and substance of their comments are like gold.

For example, a former coworker of mine from Kodak, long since moved on to greener pastures, recently responded to my request. Her name is Nancy. She is the most thorough and amazing proof reader I've ever come across. She found a mistake in chapter titles, a section where the font changed (very subtle, I couldn't tell by looking!), a ton of little tiny stupid errors that were missed by previous readers, and especially the spot where I called Quinn's eyes brown. (they're now turquoise, a recent change!) On top of that, she did it all in 24 hours, and wanted another book after that, which she also finished in 24 hours. Talk about heaven!

Next came Sheila, who offered to give the process a shot since she enjoyed reading Mazurka and also happened to be a writer as well! I loved reading her comments. She found little inconsistencies that I never would have picked up on - like my heroine Marcella Hollister, who was very frugal when it came to getting car repairs or letting her husband buy gadgets, but when she got into the jewelry store, she whipped out her credit card without batting an eyelash! She found many things like this, and I used every one of her ideas. Thanks, Sheila!

I am so grateful for my Inner Circle. You know who you are! Thank you.

Now, how do you manage to polish your manuscript when the time is right? Who helps you? Or are you a solo flyer? Tell us about your experiences, below.

Aaron Paul Lazar

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Plot Points

© Marta Stephens 2011 all rights reserved

While at the market the other day, I came upon a small display of sale items. They were the usual grocery store things; wooden spoons, dish towels, Christmas bows and wrapping paper left over from 2010, several DVDs--the types of things I normally don’t stop to look at. This time, however, tucked between cookbooks and rubber spatulas were several paperbacks at the ridiculously low price of $2.99. Now that made me stop. I quickly realized that I already had several of the books at home, but one book did catch my eye, Tess Gerritsen’s NEVER SAY DIE (1992).

I’m not sure if it was the rain pouring outside my window or the fact that it was New Year’s Eve and I had nothing to do but kick back and relax, but the instant I started to read the prologue (which I normally skip), I was hooked. Needless to say, I finished reading it the following day then spent the next few days letting the scenes roll around in my mind.

To the avid reader, those of you out there who set a goal to read 52 or more books a year and meet or exceed your goal, I commend you. Me, I have stacks and stacks of books that I’ve promised to read, tried to read but can’t get past the first few pages.

So what makes some books so damn hard to put down?

Plot points, those significant events within a plot that dig into the action and spin it around in another direction. Plot points can also be an object of significant importance that revolves around the plot—an event, an item, or even the discovery of a character or motive.

To set the mood, the book blurb reads:

“Twenty years after her father’s plane crashed in the jungles of South Asia, Willy Jane Maitland was finally tracking his last moves. She recognized the dangers, but her search for the truth about the fateful flight was the only thing that mattered.

Without knowing who to trust, Willy turns to ex-army officer turned mercenary Guy Barbard. He knows the jungle like the back of his hand, but Willy can’t be sure who he’s really working for.

As deadly assailants chase them, Willy and Guy realize they’re investigating secrets people will kill to protect.”

The prologue briefly described the events that took place in 1970 in Laos inside the North Vietnam border and easily moves the reader into the present time and the opening line in chapter 1.
“General Joe Kisstner did not sweat, a fact that utterly amazed Willy Jane Maitland, since she herself seemed to be sweating through her sensible cotton underwear, through her sleeveless chambray blouse, all the way through her wrinkled twill skirt.”
Within the first 22 pages (approximately 5,000 words), Gerritsen introduces four plot points. By the end of the first chapter, the reader is clear about Willy’s motivation—she resented her father for signing up for another tour, it’s her dying mother’s wish to know what happened to her husband, and her questions will only lead her down a deadly path.

Plot point 1: Kistner orders his assistant to quietly send Willy's driver away. When Willy realizes her driver is gone, the assistant suggests Kistner’s driver can take her back to town, but he never arrives.

Plot point 2: Guy Barnard's job is to ID the remains of soldiers and send them home. Kistner calls him in for a meeting on the same morning Willy is do to arrive. Kistner lets him wait three hours and as soon as Willy leaves his office, he cancels his appointment with Guy which results in Guy meeting the stranded Willy.  He offers her a ride into town. When he returns to his hotel room and starts studying his case files, he realizes the one MIA GI that he’s being paid to find is Willy’s father, Wild Bill Maitland. He then realizes that he needs her in order to find Maitland.

Plot point 3: Hours later a meeting takes place between two old acquaintances, Siang and a character referred to only as “the man” instructs Siang to take care of Willy Maitland.

Plot point 4: That evening, Willy is in the dining terrace, Guy tries to persuade her to have dinner or a drink with him. She declines. After several attempts, he’s ready to give up and walks away when he notices a man approaching her with a knife. The man stabs her in the arm, but Guy fights off the would be assassin before the attack can go any further.

After reading the first chapter it's clear the assassin will strike again and Willy and Guy are at the mercy of puppeteers who will stop at nothing to keep a wartime secret quiet.

NEVER SAY DIE never lost my interest. I truly enjoyed the read and now I’m off to read the first chapter of my manuscript and see how many more plot points I need to add!

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes mystery/suspense.
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).Her books are available in paperback, Kendle, and e-book format online at Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, Smashword, and Powells. For more information about Stephens and her writing, visit  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Win a Nook E-Reader!

Sadly, I didn't get an e-reader for Christmas. I've played with a few of them, and the Nook (Barnes & Noble's version of the Kindle) is awesome. There's even a color version.

And some of my co-authors at Resplendence Publishing are giving one away.

Here's the contest details:

Welcome to 2011! And what better way to celebrate than with a brand new NOOK COLOR!

Six sexy authors of erotic romance are coming together with a fabulous giveaway to usher in the New Year! And entering couldn't be simpler.

...Just visit each of our blogs beginning January 3rd, and leave a comment on the contest posts there with:

* your name (or user name) and contact email, and
* your top two (2) choices from the author's backlist to kick-start your Nook library should you win.

Contest will close at Noon ET on Tuesday, January 11, 2011, and a winner will be drawn at 1:11pm ET from all the readers who commented on all six blogs:

Gwendolyn Cease at

Suzanne Graham at

Bronwyn Green at

Jessica Jarman at

Kris Norris at

Devon Rhodes at

The Grand Prize winner will receive a brand new Nook Color and two ebooks of their choice from each author!

Second Prize will be winner's choice of ebook from each author's backlist!

Third Prize will be winner's choice of an available print book personalized and signed by the author!

More surprises and prizes at each blog, so what are you waiting for? The clock is ticking, and when it comes up all ones, you could be the winner!!


* In order to be eligible for the drawing, you must leave a comment at each of the six blogs with your email address and choice of two books. We're sorry, but anyone who misses a blog or forgets to leave their contact info will be disqualified.
* All comments must be posted by 12:00 Noon, ET, on January 11th.
* Valid entry comments must be in response to the official Contest post on each blog, although we also welcome comments on other posts, so feel free to poke around!
* The Nook will be shipped directly from the store to the winner's house. Ebooks will be emailed separately to the winner.
* Winner must respond to Jessica within three days or an alternate winner will be announced.

If you win, I promise not to stalk you. Much. :-)

You can also check out the rules at the Facebook event page (it's open to the public, so you can view the page even if you're not signed in or don't have a Facebook account... and what do you mean, you don't have a Facebook account?!).

Good luck!

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Student Becomes A Teacher

© Susan Wingate 2010 all rights reserved

First off, let me say that I've been writing most of my life. I started as a young girl when I realized my father wrote. He graduated with an English degree from Arizona State University before it had received its university accreditation. He also graduated with a minor in speech and used that degree in theatre and the performing arts.

Wingate is  a women’s fiction author.
My mother was a fine artist who couldn't carry a beat and to assuage her ineptness in dance, she entered my sister and me into years of dance study--twelve years, in fact. My first dance lesson happened when I was five years old. So, as a kid, writing and the arts played a big part in my life.

It was because of a creative writing assignment given by our teacher in the third grade, that I wrote my first short story. The story told a tale of a little girl who owned a horse. The horse somehow escaped and then, finally, by the end of the tale the girl and the horse were reunited in a tearful scene. I think I'd just recently finished reading BLACK BEAUTY.

My third grade teacher wrote, diagonally, in big red letters across the page, "Too Schmaltzy!"

It stopped my writing. In fact, I didn't pick up a pen to write again for another six years, at the age of fourteen, when my sister's boyfriend entered the scene. He was a writer. He still is. They ended up marrying and have been together twenty-eight years, today.

But, when I re-entered the world of writing I didn't choose to write short fiction. The third grade teacher had negated my natural tendency to do so. Instead, I wrote poetry and songs.

Around that same time, I joined the drama department at our high school and began to act in plays. I enjoyed reading plays by Shakespeare, Neil Simon and J.M. Barrie. The construct of scripts fascinated me. But, what really happened then was had begun to learn about developing characters to portray on stage. I had to learn what they knew, their backgrounds and how to feel what they felt. My first big part was that of the ostrich in PETER PAN. I know. Laugh. But, still, I had to figure out how an ostrich my act, how it might show emotion. I had to learn its past.

Again, something else, the acting, side-lined my writing until I was about seventeen. I went on the road with an acting troupe called The Robinhood Players. We traveled the southwestern and the Pacific Northwestern states performing for schools, churches and convalescent centers. We traveled from Arizona to Nevada, over to California, up through Oregon and Washington and then came back down via Idaho, passing once again through Nevada and coming home to Arizona.

We drove in a beaten up van for nearly four months staying in hostels and grubby inns. The troupe consisted of four actors. So, fortunately for me, someone else usually drove allowing me the time to write. It was then, I believe, the writing bug kicked in hard. We were in San Francisco for about one month. I wrote a bunch of poems and a few songs as well. I remember the title of one those songs. It was called "Jack Daniels." My sister still talks about it to this day.

After returning, life took me into a love relationship with a man I later married and then divorced. The entire length of our relationship lasted nearly twenty-three years. Near the end, my father became terminally ill. I remember how sick he was at my graduation. He came to the ceremony even though he felt so bad.

I'd never thought about my dad dying. I thought he just had a bad case of the flu. He was invincible to me. But, his illness turned out to be congestive heart failure. When I realized the seriousness of his illness, I lost it and started to write again--to let out all of the emotions I had inside me. The emotions came out in poetry, again.

Thirteen months blew by and my dad passed away.

That's when I started writing more creatively. The stories came to me in bits of my past, in family scenes but mostly from my memories with my dad. It seemed more like writing memoir. It was me and people I knew on the page, not made-up characters like Scout, Jenn and Atticus from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The pain of writing in this form kept stopping me. No matter how much I wrote, I'd always end up at some invisible wall halting the process, halting me from completing the story.

So, I began to change names. And, yes, in some ways, to protect the innocent. Then, scenes began to change and take form and, then, I started imaging new characters with new traits entering these scenes.

I began writing fiction again, after thirty-one years. That was in 1997.

Not only did I begin writing fiction, it was the beginning of my first novel that would end up taking me nearly nine years to finish and one more year to polish. However, in 2006 I wondered if I could write another novel. I had been writing many short fiction pieces but wasn't sure if I could swing another longer work.

Enter: BOBBY'S DINER, the first book in The Bobby's Diner Series. By then, I had been studying writing like a woman on crack and reading every book on "how-to" write, on scene setting, on character development, on voice and point of view narrator. I devoured bookcases full of writing resources in order to learn my craft.

In that period of intense learning, I met a man who influenced my writing indelibly. I met Michael Collins, author of KEEPERS OF TRUTH and THE DEATH OF A WRITER, at, what would be, the final 2003 Northwest Bookfest, a writing conference that was held annually in Seattle, Washington.

Michael was speaking on a panel and although our meeting lasted merely seconds, we made a friendly connection. When I saw that he was teaching at another conference in the same area, I decided to go and I signed up for his workshop.

Students participating in his workshop had to submit five pages of their novel. After the workshop he was to give each student a one-on-one critique lasting no more than fifteen minutes each. My critique lasted thirty minutes. At the end of it, he offered to help me as a writing mentor. Our mentorship would last two years.

It floored me. I mean, I knew I loved to write. I knew the passion burned within me but I never considered, until that day, that my writing could be anything people might really want to read or be publishable material.

In 2004, I quit my day job! And, began writing full time. In 2005, I realized I had a much better method to construct the novel than what I was finding in the "how-to" books I'd been reading. So, I began outlining the parts of the novel and studying people like Aristotle and Gustav Freytag for structure. I took everything I'd learned from my five years of studying and made up my own format.

In 2006, after writing my second book, I decided I needed to help others who might be struggling with the process the way I had. And, after teaching at colleges, writing conferences, libraries and bookstores, more than three-quarters of participants who have attended my workshops have been able to complete their first novels. That's incredible to me. That I might be able to help someone through this grueling task. It's absolutely one of the most profound feelings ever.

So, as I sit here, thinking about my ongoing virtual book tour for EASY AS PIE AT BOBBY'S DINER, the number two book of The Bobby's Diner Series, I think of the seven novels I've written with fondness for my mentor.

I told him, "I don't know how to repay you."

He replied, "Just do the same for someone else."

I know I could not have completed my first novel if not for Michael Collins. I can only hope I've had a similar effect on other writers who I've helped.

About the author:Award-winning author, Susan Wingate, gets a monthly column about writing and the publishing industry in her local newspaper, The Journal of the San Juan Islands. She will also be posting weekly discussions about the writing industry for the regional online newspaper, the site.

Her latest book is EASY AS PIE AT BOBBY’S DINER and you can visit her website at

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome 2011!

Amazing, isn’t it? We are on the threshold of another new year.

I’m no good at keeping resolutions. Thinking about them is more stressful than following through with them so I don’t bother to make them. Instead, I look at the first day of the year as clean slate, a white canvas—a blank page on which to make my mark, whatever that mark may be, wherever the path will lead, and look forward to those I’ll meet along the way.

Happy New Year to all. Here’s to a wonderful new beginning.