Monday, February 28, 2011

Getting A Clue

© William Topek 2011 all rights reservered

A man's cufflink found beneath a couch cushion. An unexpected signature on an important document. An offhand remark. A billboard seen a hundred times that suddenly takes on new meaning. A clue can be literally anything, and if you're writing a mystery, you're going to need some. No one wants to read a mystery that remains unsolved at the end of the story. That would enrage a reader more than having your whole story turn out to be just a dream. As a writer, though, what sort of clues should you create and how do you insert them into the narrative? The key here is variety on both counts, which needn't be all that difficult, as kinds of clues – and ways for introducing them – are nearly limitless.

Simply put, a clue is something that leads to or helps illuminate something else. A valid confession to a crime is not a clue, it's a solution. Finding the stolen money isn't a clue, not if you've been specifically looking for it. The villain's secret insurance policy covering his recently murdered wife could certainly be a clue. Discovering instead that this same villain had a secret meeting with a life insurance agent prior to his wife's death is a more nuanced and interesting clue. Clues can be misread or even go unnoticed entirely. They can appear before they're needed, long after, or just at the right moment. They can be specifically searched for or stumbled across. They can enter the mind through any of the body's five senses, or even a sixth sense if you believe in that sort of thing. They can gel in the subconscious or even in dreams before entering the fore-brain. To write an intriguing mystery, it's often best to mix as many different options as your story can comfortably hold.

The essence of human consciousness is taking in new information and mixing it with old, usually leading to a shift in perception of the old, the new, or both. Solving a mystery is an intensified subset of this natural process. You can show this in a straightforward, breadcrumb/treasure map style. One clue is presented after another after another, leading in a straight line to the goal. However, if you're attempting to craft an interesting and believable story (and why bother writing one if you aren't?), clues should come within the protagonist's sphere a bit more realistically.

In my novel SHADOW OF A DISTANT MORNING, the reader is taken through three weeks in the life of Devlin Caine, a private detective working in Kansas City in 1934. If readers expect interesting and well-placed clues in a mystery, this goes triple for detective stories. Many fans of detective fiction make it a point of pride to try and solve the case before the hero does (or at least to keep up). More ardent fans like to reread the novel at least once to see what clues they may have missed the first time through, and a good writer will try to give them that pleasure. Most of the rules of fiction writing are extremely pliable. If they weren't, we'd have run out of new stories centuries ago. Still, you can't cheat the reader, which is why, in a mystery, you can't have a new character who appears on the final page, neatly delivering volumes of highly specific and previously unknown information that explain everything.

While I strove to create a classic gumshoe character for my novel, the last thing I wanted was for the book to be one long clich̩ Рa serious pitfall when vising a well-established genre. Realism makes a story believable, and the more believable the story, the more interesting and exciting it becomes when the protagonist is threatened. This is not to suggest that I don't enjoy science fiction or fantasy; far from it. But in good sci-fi and fantasy fiction, the stories are kept believable within the confines of the parameters established. In my effort to create realism and avoid clich̩, I decided that Devlin Caine would not be hired to solve a mystery. No enigmatic client shows up at his office with a perplexing puzzle. Caine is hired by the same person for two separate and very routine jobs: what amounts to a background investigation of a potential business partner, and to act as a bodyguard. The reader gets to know Caine by experiencing his workaday world. The mystery takes off when Caine, looking to protect his own interests, finds an artifact that puzzles him, and seeks to know the connection between this artifact, the fairly routine work he is doing for the client, and the unexplained violence that has recently occurred in the story.

Naturally, several clues have already appeared in the story by now, most of them unnoticed by the hero who had no reason to be looking for them. However, Caine is a professional detective – intelligent, observant, analytical, and possessing a good memory. He has little difficulty looking back to find the missed clues when triggered to do so by new ones. As the story becomes increasingly complex, Caine finds it necessary to revisit his various theories on what's happening around him, revamping and remodeling as new information is uncovered.

And where does he get this new information? How are these new clues presented (as well as the ones he has to go back for)? Again, the key is variety. Caine finds many clues because he actively seeks them out. He obtains someone's personal calendar through one of his operatives. He bribes a bellhop for information on a guest's habits. He searches a dead man's hotel room. He instructs his operative to break into a government building to photograph sealed records. Being an experienced investigator, he fishes. He tosses out certain comments to check for reactions (or lack thereof), or falsely attributes quotes to certain people in an effort to seek confirmation from others. Caine stumbles across some clues by accident. A friendly conversation with a retiree in a local bar. A casual read of the morning newspaper. Turning the dial on the radio to check the news. Still other clues Caine finds by checking his memory, thinking back to earlier encounters, earlier conversations. He recalls things he paid no attention to the first time, or recalls scenes in which pieces were missing that he now realizes should have been there.

Of course, every single clue shouldn't lead directly to The Mystery. As with so many things both material and intangible, larger mysteries are made up of several smaller ones, at least some of which must be solved first. Nor should every single clue be immediately useful to the detective. What may appear to be a clue – or even be one – may still lead to a dead end in terms of what the hero is seeking (though even the process of discovering that dead end may open up a truer path). As a detective, Devlin Caine knows the difficulty in obtaining reliable information. He is a realist who understands that you can never know everything, that life doesn't come in neatly packaged, perfectly detailed slices. He doesn't look to get every last answer, just the pieces that matter to him and those he serves.

Clues can and should come from anywhere and everywhere. They can appear in infinite variety and be presented in any order. They can go unnoticed, trigger a faint disturbance in the mind, or hit with a thunderbolt of full-on realization, and at different points in the story, all three can happen with the same clue. Just as you strive to offer appealing variety through your writing (different characters, settings, plots, etc.), so the clues in a mystery should be offered in a similarly tantalizing array. A bland literary diet is for the inexperienced and the undemanding. A professional teller of tales sets a table for the more discriminating palate.

About the author:

William Topek is originally from the Midwest, but has lived and worked throughout the United States and overseas. His widely varied career has included active duty service in the U.S. Air Force, teaching in a foreign middle school, and conducting regulatory seminars and security training as an employee of the federal government. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas and received his MBA from Willamette University in Oregon. His interests include film, fiction, history, and the art of storytelling.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review: Tailwind: Days of Cottonmouths and Cotton Candy By Lad Moore

Hi, folks!

I've been empty-headed this weekend, trying to come up with an article for you. You know, I don't often have writers' block, but when it comes to creating weekly articles, there are times when I'm just... blank.

I've been digging around my files and found this review I wrote a while back for one of my favorite books by Lad Moore. This man is a gem, and if you search MB4 you'll see a number of great articles and stories by Lad in our archives.

Title: Tailwind: Days of Cottonmouths and Cotton Candy

Author: Lad Moore

Publisher: BeWrite Books

Publisher's Address: 363 Badminton Road, Nibley, Bristol,BS37 5JF

ISBN number: 1-904492-02-9

Price: $16.75

Publisher phone number and/or website address:

Tailwind: Days of Cottonmouths and Cotton Candy, by Lad Moore, shines with vignettes that drip like pearls of dew, one at a time, to be savored as cool water on a parched tongue. Each story, replete with humor and pathos, transports the reader to the world of rural East Texas in the mid-twentieth century. Mr. Moore’s boyhood was filled with toy soldiers, hot tar on bare feet, fireflies, and shenanigans born of times less electronic, less structured, and certainly less affluent than today.

Imagine sitting around a campfire with a storyteller whose history blazes with events so exotic, so traumatic, and yet so rich that they captivate you with more intensity than the biggest Hollywood blockbuster. Now, envision the author speaking in a comfortable voice, resonant with humility and humor. This is Lad Moore. This is a writer for all mankind, a universal genius.

Mr. Moore writes with a folksy elegance that is unparalleled in this age. Reminiscent of the great American masters, Tailwind should and will be included as a fundamental part of America’s heritage. The ultimate revelation comes when readers discover that Mr. Moore’s tales are true – stemming from a tumultuous and difficult childhood in which he was abandoned by his mother at six months, barely raised by a glamorous, oft-absent father, and shipped off to military school at the age of eight. Betrayed by his father’s second wife, who stole the family fortune, Mr. Moore suffered poverty with his beloved grandmother, but thankfully was taught of deeper riches via her warm affection and exemplary morality.

Tailwind becomes an extension of one’s being. This reader allowed himself a story every few days – stretching the experience as long as possible, relishing each chapter with nostalgic reverence.

Take for example, the following vignettes:

In “Bologna Sandwich Ceasefires,” young Lad entertains himself with sweetgum armies, creating legions of soldiers from twigs, spent shotgun casings, and acorn hulls. Using rubber band missiles, he demolishes entire battalions in an afternoon.

Cannon fire – sweetgum burs collected in a Mrs. Tucker’s lard can – rained down on the standing forces from the hill above them. Shots fell equally, alternating between the armies, with full sound effects coughed out from deep in my throat. After the barrage, casualty count determined the winner and loser. Soldiers that lost their upright stance from the bombardment must be broken in half – not to be recycled. A mass grave awaited them in the storm sewer.

Tailwind sings with poetic images of life in rural America. When finishing the last chapter, a sense of sadness descends, akin to bidding farewell to a dear friend. Consolation comes only in the knowledge that Mr. Moore’s second book, Odie Dodie, The Life and Crimes of a Travelin’ Preacher Man, is now available for purchase.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

and the winner is!!

...Bryce Daniels!!

I will be sending this book to you next week... email me at pubd2b at yahoo dot com and let me know the place to send it and if UPS is a good way to go.

Thank you all so much for being our fans and followers and for playing with me this month.

We will have more contests to come so be sure to keep checking back!! Mb4 WANTS YOU!!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Enter to WIN!!

Hey everyone! Today is the day! Post in this thread to win a free book! We are giving away a copy of Pure Double Cross by John Knorle. I hope you win!

How can I win?

It's easy. Leave us a comment telling us how you are friends with us. Are you a follower of the MB4 blog? Know us from Facebook? Twitter? Have you been following one or more (tell us!) of our personal blogs? Gather? Livejournal? Other?

The person with the highest points, (1 for each fan following opportunity!) will win this great book!

And the winner will be announced here on Saturday, February 26, 2011.

Now get to posting!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Write a Bad Novel

copyright 2011 by Ron Adams

A while back a friend of mine found out that I write books and short stories. After his initial astonishment, (turns out he didn’t even know I read), he informed me that he had always wanted to write a fantasy/sci-fi novel. I recall his exact words:

"I want to write so bad!”

So I scoured the Internet for advice on how to write a truly bad novel. After much diligence and a few cold adult beverages, I found and submit for your review, the following (really funny) list:

1. Remember that real writers use a typewriter. They don’t like these newfangled computers. A manual typewriter and a bucket of Wite-Out™ are the tools of a serious writer.

2. Never pick an average name that a regular person would have. Go with something that explains the character. If your character is a cop on the edge, then try a manly nickname coupled with the name of a gun — something like Rip Magnum.

3. If your book is about a real person, just alter their name and location slightly — Jorge M. Bushe, Presidente of the Federated Territories.

4. Make sure that the good guys are clearly good and the bad guys are overwhelming evil. Don’t confuse your readers by having all the characters have good qualities and bad ones.

5. Explain everything. When your character is angry, just say that she’s angry. There’s no point in trying to show that through her actions when you can just tell that to your reader.

6. Don’t explain anything. Why did your villain spend the whole book clutching a blanket? Leave it up to the readers. They’ll fill in the blanks.

7. Pile on the adjectives and adverbs. Why have a woman speak when you can have her whisper breathlessly in her lustful, wind-swept voice?

8. Fill your book with coincidences, especially towards the end. Nothing beats having the exciting climax occur because the hero bumped into the villain in a small-town cafe when they both had a craving for peach-filled semi-sweet chocolate pie. Did you mention that both characters love the exact same pie? Now would be a good time.

9. Don’t let your character’s established traits get in the way of a good plot twist. Just because your hero is a priest who preaches non-violence doesn’t mean he can’t be an expert marksman with an itchy trigger finger.

10. If you are writing a historical novel, don’t sweat accuracy. The reader won’t care. Go ahead and have Napoleon invent the automatic rifle. Who could say he didn’t?

11. Don’t feel as if anything has to happen. Plots are optional. Two people sitting in a room staring at each other is great material, as long as it is handled with plenty of adjectives and adverbs (see tip five).

12. Exclamation points! Exclamation points! Exclamation points!

13. Don’t sweat the order of the action. If the big football game needs to occur just after the prom, then that is when it should be.

14. Brothers are always very different and they always argue about everything. Never portray brothers who are similar and get along unless they are twins (except if one is an evil twin). If they are twins they must finish each other’s sentences and no one should be able to tell them apart.

15. Sisters must always steal each other’s boyfriends. Additionally, one sister must be outgoing and the other must be quiet and serious. This makes no difference to the boyfriend though, he’ll gladly dump either for the other.

16. Don’t start your novel with an interesting event. Take a few dozen pages to explain everything that would lead up to that interesting event. The reader will gladly hang around until you get to the point.

17. Don’t make your secondary characters interesting. It will just detract from the main characters. Lesser characters don’t need reasons for their actions. They are just there to keep the plot moving.

18. If the plot seems to slow down, give someone a gun or a knife and kill off one of those secondary characters you don’t care about anyway.

19. Writing a book about vampires? You probably don’t need any help making it bad, but you should definitely make sure you show how cool it is to be a vampire and make up your own rules for the way vampires can die or have sex.

20. If you are writing about sports, make it clear that sports always provide important life lessons. Make sure the novel has one obsessive and one downtrodden coach.

21. If you want to write a serious novel, make sure the main character is jaded and has lost interest in life. This anti-hero must view all other people as phonies, fakes or idiots. The character should experiment with drugs and sex, watch someone die, or at least be assaulted. At no point should the anti-hero feel any real pleasure. Happy endings are strictly prohibited.

22. Writing a mystery? Make sure the clues are really obvious or really obscure. Either way, your hero will be the only person who can piece these things together. At some point they must accuse the wrong person and be ridiculed for it. In the end though, they should deliver a speech that explains exactly how everything happened.

23. Character conversations should always be used to explain what is happening and how people are feeling. It is perfectly natural to have a character explain to his office mate (whose brother is a bank president) that he used to be a safe cracker, but now he just wants to go straight.

24. At the end of the book, you must have the main character reach an important and life-changing epiphany. Make that epiphany really obvious. Don’t worry about why they had one, just make sure they had it so the reader knows the book is ending.

25. Editing is just a waste of time. Spell check it and move on.

Armed with all this, go forth and be sure to follow NONE of this advice. Cheers!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Electric Shocks

© Eric Stone 2011 all rights reserved

My books have been electrified. They’re now available for pretty much any and every electronic gizmo you might care to read them on. The money is now, well, if not exactly rolling in, it’s begun creeping in. I’m glad for that. A little sad, too. I have high hopes, and some real fears. Getting to this point has been a lesson.

First I had to get the rights back to my backlist. You can’t publish your books as ebooks unless you have the right to do so and can prove it.

That was no problem for my first book, WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL. It had been remaindered a while ago and I had the rights reversion letter in hand.

The four Ray Sharp novels were another matter. The original publisher had been sold to another publisher. The new publisher was doing little to promote further sales of the books they had got rights to in the deal. They’d even made it clear that they had no intention of reprinting any of the books. But they still had stock in their warehouse and were reluctant to part with my rights until they’d sold most of it. (Three of the four books had earned back their advance and were paying me royalties.)

I was negotiating with the new publisher to get my rights back when I had a stroke of “luck.” They violated my contract with them in a way that allowed me to unilaterally take back the rights, whether they liked it or not. (There’s a lesson here: know and understand your contract or have a lawyer or agent who does and will keep on top of it for you.) It took a brief correspondence between my lawyer and the publisher, but I got my rights reversion letter.

Then the books needed formatting to become ebooks. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Lulu (an ebook publisher/distributor who can get your ebook out to a wide variety of places) all have ways on their websites of formatting your own ebook. Unless you really know what you’re doing – don’t do it. I’ve seen too many badly formatted ebooks. Farm the job out if, like me, you aren’t so hot at HTML. It’s worth the money. I paid $150 per book for two files each – a mobi file for Amazon and an epub file for everything else.

You’re probably going to need new covers, too. I don’t own the rights to the covers of my previously published books.

But that’s not all. While Amazon doesn’t require you to come up with a new ISBN for your ebooks, Barnes & Noble, SONY, iBooks and several others do. Lulu, which will publish to iBooks and SONY and others for you, will happily assign you an ISBN if you request it, but then it becomes the publisher of record. (Lulu also requires a different ISBN than the one you used for B&N.) Do yourself a favor, go to Bowker and buy your own. (It’s cheaper in blocks of 10. I have five ebooks in two different formats each and have used up all 10.)

Price your ebooks to sell. Mine are all priced at $2.99. And because I am the sole publisher of them, my royalties are all higher per book than they ever were on any of the paperback editions of my books, and nearly the same as they were on the hardbacks.

If, on the other hand, your traditional publisher is publishing your ebooks, the standard contract these days calls for the publisher to get 75% of the royalty and the author to get 25%. That is a really crappy deal for you, the author. You might, however, have no choice if you want any form of traditional publishing deal. Do yourself and all the authors who follow in your footsteps a favor and ask your agent to battle hard for better terms – at least a 50-50 split, ideally better than that. You probably won’t get it – publishers are as aware of the fact that ebooks are the wave of the future as you are. But if we all put up a fight, sooner or later we might begin to get somewhere.

The sad part of all this for me is, of course, the impact it’s having on bookstores. (How can any bookstore compete with my cheap ebooks?) I recently spent a teary-eyed evening at the closing party for the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood here in Los Angeles. The rise of ebooks is part of what shut the place down. But I don’t feel guilty about my ebooks. As an author trying to make a living from my writing I have no choice but to change with the times.

Bookstores, too, are going to have to change. Maybe we will see the rise of “book galleries” – places where people go to hang out, browse at books (one copy of each), drink coffee, quaff cocktails and download what they’ve seen in the store. Or something else might develop. The future is, as always, unknown. That can be scary, but it can also be filled with electric opportunity.

About the author:
Eric Stone worked for many years as a writer, reporter, photographer, editor and publisher in the U.S. and Asia, covering everything from economics to crime; politics to sex, drugs and rock & roll. He has traveled the world for both work and play, and lives in Los Angeles.
He is the author of the four Ray Sharp novels: SHANGHAIED, FLIGHT OF THE HORNBILL, GRAVE IMPORTS and THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD. The books are set in Asia and based on stories that Eric covered as a journalist. He is also the author of the true crime / sports biography, WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mb4 welcomes Frank Edwards

The Great Thing about Medical Thrillers
© Frank Edwards 2011 all rights reserved

We’re all fascinated with medicine, I think, because it revolves around the basic drama of being sentient, mortal creatures. The people who devote their lives to medicine as doctors, nurses and other health care providers are given special respect. Who are they? Are they really different? What do they know that the rest of society doesn’t? What is it like to yank someone back from the brink of death—and what is it like to watch someone die when there’s nothing more you can do? So, just placing a story in the context of medicine automatically generates a great deal of reader interest.

I didn’t really start writing seriously until I was a medical student at the University of Rochester and fell under the influence of writers like WC Williams, James Dickey and Lawerence Ferlinghetti. I stole every spare moment I could to write poetry and stories, and started getting published, which added fuel to the fire, of course. I’m here to tell you that medical school is not a great place to be when the writing fever grabs you by the throat. It’s a torture to break away from an idea and return to memorizing the insertion of muscles and the pathophysiology of secondary hypoadrenalism when the creative juices are really flowing.

Getting my first medical suspense novel, Final Mercy, from a cluster of ideas to a published work took approximately eight years, and I had to learn through pure trial and error. Then, last summer, my editor, the talented Liz Burton of Zumaya Publications, and I spent about three weeks doing the final edit, and I cannot begin to describe what a fantastic learning experience that was. We did it real-time on Google Documents—me in New York State and Liz in Austin, Texas—and it was wonderful, going over the story line by line, tinkering and polishing. Things I’d wrestled with for years finally fell into place. I learned more about the craft of story telling in that three weeks than I had in the previous half a decade. It mainly had to do, I think, with learning how to see each scene through the reader’s eyes.

Most medical thrillers involve the revelation of a conspiracy of some sort. In Final Mercy, I unmask the villain early in the story. The reader, therefore, knows more than the protagonist, and that adds to the suspense as we watch the hero and heroine struggle through a maze of suspicion and danger, knowning all too well that an evil force is lurking out front, waiting for them to turn the next corner.

About Frank Edwards

Frank J. Edwards was born in Rochester New York. In 1968 he entered the US Army and served a tour in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. He received a BA with honors in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill then attended medical school at the University of Rochester, graduating with an MD in 1979. In 1989 he received an MFA in writing from Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC. After practicing for a decade in North Carolina, he returned to the Rochester, area in 1990 where he remains in active practice.

He has published a number of poems and short stories in literary magazines including Carolina Quarterly and The Virginia Quarterly Review, along with numerous medical articles. In 1988, Henry Holt published his first non-fiction book, Medical Malpractice: Solving the Crisis. His second non-fiction book, The M & M Files: Morbidity and Mortality Rounds in Emergency Medicine was published by Hanley & Belfus in 2002 and has become a standard text in emergency medicine.

For the past thirteen years he has taught creative writing seminars to medical students at the U of R. In 2004, the University of Rochester Press published his collection of poems and short stories, It’ll Ease the Pain.

Final Mercy is his first novel. He is married to a former emergency nurse from Canada and lives with his family on Lake Ontario near Rochester.
You can visit his website at

About Final Mercy

Dr. Jack Forester, director of the New Canterbury University Hospital emergency department, is about to win an ongoing battle to modernize the ED when he’s stymied by the power-hungry dean, Bryson Witner. Then someone tries to murder Jack’s mentor and the former dean, setting it up to look like suicide.

Bit by bit, Jack uncovers facts that suggest several other recent tragic accidents may not have been in the least accidental. The deeper he digs, the closer danger creeps, and the phrase “life or death” begins to take on a new and very personal meaning.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Be encouragers...

Have you ever fallen down on the job of writing and felt like you would never rise again? Like that writing life was just a dream, never to be obtained? Were you rejected by agents until you declared you would never submit again? Then found that rejections were just niceties compared to what editors did to your work?

Well, let me be your encourager today.

I found this online about Abraham Lincoln. I thought you would appreciate his life story.

(from Ralph Marston's site)
Failed in business at age 21
Was defeated in a legislative race at age 22
Failed again in business at age 24
Overcame the death of his sweetheart at age 26
Had a nervous breakdown at age 27
Lost a congressional race at age 34
Lost a congressional race at age 36
Lost a senatorial race at age 45
Failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47
Lost a senatorial race at age 49
Was elected President of the United States at age 52

see? you are NEVER too old to succeed!!

Maybe you are like me and think, okay, if someone as famous as Lincoln could experience such shortcomings and still persevere and succeed, then I should be able to!

I hope this has lifted you up a little. Now GO WRITE!!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Looking for a Writing Critique?

Hello, fellow writers!

As Marta mentioned in her new year's piece, this year Murderby4 is introducing something new!

We're trying to shake things up a bit at this blog, and we'd like to invite you to participate!

On the second Monday of every month, we're offering a free writing critique to authors who'd like to get our take on their work. We're just looking for the first 500 words of your murder mystery (or fictional piece), or an excerpt on which you're particularly interested in getting our feedback. If you're stuck on a scene, or proud of one passage - email it to me, and I'll get it around the group.

Don't worry - we will offer constructive, but kind, critiques. We're not out to make ourselves look like experts or make you feel like idiots. Honest! And we'll make sure that any comments that come along are monitored with that in mind. No prima donnas allowed - especially those who take pleasure in ripping someone apart. Not on our watch!

The coolest thing is that we'll take your writing - FIRST COME FIRST SERVE. The first exercise will be posted the second Monday in March - so be sure to send yours in first if you're interested in getting in at the starting gate! We'll need to have it in our hands by the first of March to give it a fair shake with all four mystery authors.

So, if we get 12 submissions in the next few weeks, we'll take one each month - for the next year. If we get 1200, we might have to do some fast juggling, and maybe some choosing...

Be brave, and send your stuff to me. You can see the address and the list of submission requirements here. It's not complicated, I just need your selection in a Word format attached to the email, with normal looking fonts, and 500 words or less.

Hope to hear from you soon, and good luck. Remember to take pleasure in the little things, and if you love to write... write like the wind!

Warmest wishes to all,

Aaron Paul Lazar

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tools of the Trade

Copyright 2011 Ron Adams

It has been said by those much wiser than this humble writer that if you feel the desire to write a novel, go into a dark, quiet room and lie down until the feeling passes. If that fails, however, you may want to start putting together a basic tool box. Once upon a time, when I was first starting out in life, I did the same things everyone does – use a butter knife for a screwdriver, a shoe heel for a hammer, those sorts of things. It took a while, but it finally dawned on me, a universal truth. Every good craftsman, and make no mistake that writing is a craft, has a set of tools they rely on when they start. I now have a garage full of tools, most of which I have become proficient with, and know where to find the ones I need if I don’t have the right one handy. The same goes for my writing. I have a few suggestions based on the advice of others, as well as my own experience.

1. My computer, a laptop in my case, is an extremely valuable tool. Of equal value is a good backup system, because computers will crash, tears will be shed, curses will be uttered, and manuscripts can be lost. Ask me about Lake Effect some time. For those of you that are more comfortable with a typewriter, well, God bless you.

2. Get comfortable with your word processing software, computer users. A poorly prepared electronic submission is as annoying to editors as a poorly prepared paper one.

3. A good dictionary, and a thesaurus, because spell check will not always catch everything, and it is important to realize you can’t use the same words over and over. Don’t skimp on this one folks, because a good dictionary, even in the digital age, is worth its weight in gold.

4. I also like to keep a notepad ready for jotting ideas down, keeping story lines straight, or when I create new character, keeping the personalities straight.

5. I have reference materials on hand when I write, besides the dictionary. I have a writer’s guide to forensics, and to police procedures, for technical advice. I also keep a folder of research articles on the general theme of the story I am working on, on the location, or on a specific subject approached during the story, to refer to on occasion as the story progresses. And pages of my favorite websites are even listed under my Favorites list on my browser, in case I need to look something up on the fly.

6. The last tool I keep handy is my favorite mug with my favorite beverage. Most often it’s coffee, but I have been known to change it up from time to time.

My father, a builder and carpenter his whole life, always said the right tools make the job easier, and the results that much better. Little did I know he was teaching me the basics of writing at the same time. Now get your tools together, prime your imagination, and put some words down.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Isn't A Crime

© Marta Stephens 2011 all rights reserved

I never used to worry about the distinctions between the genres of romance and crime (a subgenre of mystery novels), until I started to write my crime fictions. In fact, I've always enjoyed reading both.

Lately, as I work through the various scenes of my WIP, I began to think about the differences between the two genres again.

My dilemma stems from the desire to create three-dimensional characters. By this I mean that like you and I, my protagonist has a family and a few close friends, he has bills to pay, a few hidden talents, and some habits (good or bad depending on your point of view). He eats and drinks, and on occasion, has an affair. Yes, I confess, he does have an eye for the ladies. Unfortunately for him, the romance must be restricted to a footnote in his life as a city detective. Why? Because the focus of the plot in a crime fiction must be the crime and the plot can never be detoured by a whimsical romantic affair, or can it?

Each of my novels has had a hint of an affair and although I love to write those scenes, I've had to hold back the urge to explore their relationship. So let’s look at the distinctions between these genres.

Romance: In a romance, the core of the story is the development of the love relationship between characters. The other events in the story line, regardless of importance, are secondary to that relationship. If the romance is taken out of this story, the novel would be reduced to insignificant events from the reader’s perspective and he or she would quickly lose interest.

Romantic Suspense: Simply put, in this genre the romance is poised among the events that keep the characters from coming together. In other words love hangs in the balance. There is tension throughout the novel until the problem/events are resolved. In the end, the romantic suspense is fulfilled and the two protagonists become a couple.

Crime Fiction: Crime is one of several subgenres within the mystery genre that deals with crimes, their detection, an investigation, the criminals, and their motives. The final outcome in a crime fiction usually ends in the criminal's arrest or death. In this genre, the core of the story is the crime and although some of the great authors of crime have dotted the pages of their novels with an occasional flirtatious interaction between characters, all other events (aside from the crime), regardless of importance, are secondary to the focus of bringing the criminal to justice.

So you see, it's not a crime to allow a bit of love into the detective fiction, as long as it doesn't take over the plot.

Happy Valentine!

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

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

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Romantic Writing Room

copyright aaron paul lazar, 2011

I think I deserve it.

After a year of giving up my newly renovated antique house to my dear daughter, beloved-but-unemployed son-in-law, four grandkids, pregnant mother cat, one hormonally challenged male dog, and a still-chewing everything puppy…  (while being unemployed myself during much of that time..)

After looking the other way when antiques were scratched, lamp cords were chewed off, couch skirts were peed on, satin fabric was clawed apart, our new Oriental rug was destroyed…

After having to search for a single fork in a sink full of dishes almost every day (“We’ll do them in the morning, Dad!”), dealing with a sore back from bending over a thousand times a day to pick up casually tossed cheese stick wrappers and toys, and wondering if I’d ever get into the laundry room to do laundry for my wife and me…

After all that – I think I deserve this new room of mine.

 Okay, those of you who know me realize I’m exaggerating, because I adore my daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren, and animals. Since they moved out to their own lovely little Cape Cod just two miles down the road a month ago, I’ve been filled with conflicting with feelings of terrible despair-filled longings for their company... mixed with blessed relief. I call them constantly, with any little excuse. And I ache to see the kids every second of every day.

But there is a bright side to all this, and it’s the reclaiming of our home. It’s clean. Oh, is it clean. Organized. Tidy. Polished. Shiny. Dust-free.

This is the 200th anniversary of our 1811 house, and in the spirit of giving ourselves a little reward, I decided to redo the boys’ bedroom. We gave the kids all the furniture, anyway, so it made sense to change things around a bit.

I’ve never had a writing room. I’ve never had a home office. I never even had a corner of a room that could be mine, where I could write in quiet and focus on getting my characters into trouble, and finagle the plot so they could be saved again. I always had to clamp headphones over my ears to drown out the television, or get up at 4 AM to find some quiet time to write.

My usual typical writing spot is my comfy leather chair in our bedroom. It’s too close to the TV, though, and my wife enjoys have it on all the time. But I like to be with her, so I hang out in the bedroom in the evenings. But that means I'm always tuning out whatever sit-com blasts from the darn thing. 

Sometimes, for an hour or so in the freezing cold dark winter mornings, I sit in the living room downstairs while the fire takes hold in the woodstove. But I'm often distracted by the need to let the dogs in and out, clean the cat pan, put a load in the washer or dryer, make my lunch for work, take out something to defrost for dinner, load up the wood rack by the woodstove, etc. You get my drift, all the usual pre-work morning stuff. So unless I got up, again, at 4 or 5 AM, I don’t get much time to focus on writing.

Okay, so all this is leading up to me trying not to feel guilty for spending too much money on what I’m calling my “zen* room”. It’s a romantic writing, reading, thinking, quiet room. I thought of my wife when I designed it, and have also referred to it as her “sitting room”, because I made it kinda girly-pretty and put her Keurig coffee maker in there.

I know, I know. You’d expect a guy to want a MAN cave, right? Something with lots of leather, dark wood, heavy curtains, beer posters, big screen TV, sports trophies, and the like. Well, I have something sort of like that in our living room already, with my nice dark antiques and brown leather couch and club chair. Ahem. Minus the beer posters and sports trophies.

But this time I departed from that model. I guess I figured I wouldn’t feel so guilty for spending the money if I designed it with my wife in mind.

So in spite of the fact that it’s kind of a feminine room, I must state that I consider myself a regular guy in some aspects. I love to do handyman projects around the house, can’t wait to play with the snowblower and lawn tractor, adore chopping down acres of brush and clearing land, and have a list a mile long of outdoor brick-laying type projects I can’t wait to start.

But I’m also a guy who loves some not-so-typical things. I’m a great deal like my character, Gus LeGarde, who is frequently referred to as a Renaissance man. Gus and I love antiques. We love Chopin. We love to cook. We love French Impressionist art. We love nature. We love to hike. And, we love to cross-country ski.

So, that was my lame attempt to prove to you that I really am a semi-regular guy in spite of how pretty this room is. Ha.

What inspired this? My hairdresser.

Yeah, really. The lady who cuts my hair was running late last month. She offered to let me sit in her new little new-age-comfy room with the water fountain and a foot bath. It was so darned comfortable I almost fell asleep several times, and I realized that I wanted one, too!

So, let me show you what I did over the past month.

I asked my wife what color walls she wanted, and she chose a pale, pale orange sherbet color. On an impulse, I checked out a Ruby Gordon’s annual half off sale, and found a cream-colored leather loveseat and comfy chair/ottoman in the clearance section. This sort of set the tone for the rest of the room, which really is quite romantic. (And DANG, is it relaxing and comfortable...)

I ordered this trickling wall mounted water fountain. Still waiting for a pump to be sent that isn't LOUDER than the trickling water sound, but it's enroute, so they say. 

I found turquoise pillows and a throw at Pier One, a vase thingie that holds apple blossoms, or whatever fake things my wife my want to stick in them during the winter, and then I went nuts and ordered a glass lamp to match the turquoise color that had ended up being so prevalent in the room. 

I haunted my favorite antique stores to find a perfect – I mean made for this room – antique lamp with the exact same colors that we’d already chosen.

I ordered a cherry wall cabinet to store some of my Young Living Essential Oils, an Aria oil diffuser to set the scene, a foot bath and all the good smelling stuff that goes with it, and some gorgeous photos from a wonderful photographer friend. 

 Here are a few images that will eventually be hanging over the loveseat and chair, in large format.


See how they miraculously match the room colors? It’s like it was meant to be.

It’s almost all put together. I’m waiting for the ottoman, so I can put up my feet while I write. The essential oil diffuser arrived yesterday, and I set it up this morning. My wife wanted curtains, so I got those last weekend – sheer, romantic type curtains. (I won’t dwell on the fact that my cat, one of the seven kittens my daughter’s cat had last year, keeps climbing up them and messing them up.) I’m waiting for the prints to frame and hang. And then, I’ll be ready to write in style. Wonder if my characters will have any more romance in the next few books? I do feel some love scenes coming on...

Here are a few shots of my writing room - a work in process

The "Aria" my new Young Living oil diffuser that also has soothing natural sounds and beautiful colors within its clear glass globe. Highly recommended! (and you'll know why when you read Essentially Yours, my fifteenth book scheduled for release early in 2012.)

 One corner of the room that's pretty much "done."

This is where my wife sits when she joins me and reads on her Kindle.

And here's where I sit, minus the wall art that's coming. Like I said, pretty darned comfy.

And so, as the project comes to a close, it's just in time for the next adventure of either Gus LeGarde, Sam Moore, or Marcella Hollister. Haven’t decided what’s next yet, but I’m itching to start something new.

Tell us about your writing space. Do you have a home office, like Marta? Do you write on trains in a notebook, like our past MB4 colleague, Sonya? Do you send out emails from your iPhone, like Kim? We haven't yet heard about our new friend Ron's writing space, but I'm sure he'll weigh in! 

Let us know how your characters emerge, because of, or in spite of, your writing space. 

And by the way - Happy Valentines Day! 

Do something extra special for your sweetheart today. You'll brighten up their day, and you'll feel all mushy inside. Who knows? It might inspire you. Maybe you'll end up with a girl-cave all your own. 

Aaron Paul Lazar

*Zen – a teaching that contemplation of one's essential nature to the exclusion of all else is the only way of achieving pure enlightenment.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February Contest

Hey everyone, don't forget about our February contest, where you win a free book!

This is the first of many contests, we hope, and we want you to be the winner.

See the tab above to find out how to play. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Now on to your regularly scheduled Mb4 post...

How to Slenderize Your Manuscript by Kim Smith

One of the things that gives me a happy frame of mind when writing is to have a clean, unfettered manuscript. When I wake up in the morning and open a WIP that has been edited, that has a streamline feel, and there isn’t garbage cluttering it up, I feel great.

When, on the other hand, I open my book and find extra plot-lines/unnecessary characters or just bad writing all over the place, it stresses me out.

These are a few tips for getting the junk out:

Do it in small chunks. Set aside 5 pages to work on at a time, and when that 5 is satisfactory, stop. Then tackle another 5 the next day. Conquering the entire work can be overwhelming, and you might decide it is hopeless and find yourself uncomfortably blocked.

Set aside a couple hours to do it. This may seem elementary… and it is. It’s simply a different strategy, and I say do whatever works for you. Sometimes, for me, it’s good to set aside part of a manuscript, or an entire scene to do in a set amount of time. The weekends are perfect! Just whatever works best for me in the time I have.

Sort through your manuscript and cut scenes and rearrange them. Have a folder to put the cut scenes in handy. When you pull everything out of a scene, send it to the new folder (I call this OUTTAKES but I am an old videographer, too). Put in new material, and make a decision: trash the old, add old to new, or keep new and leave old for a while until you are certain it won't hurt anything else in the book. Don’t put it back in the pile for a good while. You may find you never need it again, but that scene could fit in another work, or give you a muse-tweak that sends the book in a new direction.

Study your habits and see if you are making these unnecessary plots or characters out of a bad habit. Sometimes there’s a reason you have pages of crap all over the place, and an OUTTAKES folder that is stuffed full. Craft books with emphasis on writing tight might help.

Celebrate when you’re done! Give yourself a big old pat on the back. This sort of cleaning out the old junk and rearranging or reordering or plain old remaking your book is very therapeutic.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Characters We Love To Hate

© Marta Stephens 2011 all rights reserved

They’re called the bad guys, the villains, antagonists and evil doers. Whatever label they wear, they’re the characters who bring stories to life—the nastier the better. Some are obvious monsters while others hide behind the disguise of normality only to hit us with a dummy punch at the end of the book.

Whether obvious or not, make no mistake, these characters are evil to the core, forces no human (except that impeccable good guy) can manage or conquer. And yet, no matter how horrible their deeds, we can’t quite get enough of them nor can we get them out of our minds.

Why is that?

As a writer, I love getting into the antagonist’s head. I want to know what influenced his life and made him turn off the straight and narrow. What wrong did he endure that turned him against all that is good? And just how far will this character go before reaching a breaking point?

I especially love making the antagonist seem like the friendly next door neighbor and slowly, ever so slowly let his hideousness come to life.

Here are a few villains from novels and movies:

  • Randall Flagg, Stephen King’s “The Stand” (and any other villain from King’s novels)
  • Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris’s “The Silence of the Lamb”
  • Moriarty, Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem”
  • Cruella de Vil, Dodie Smith’s “The Hundred and One Dalmatians”
  • Darth Vader, Lucas Films, “Star Wars” (love the cape)
  • Bill Sikes, Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist”
  • Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
  • Voldemort, JK Rowling’s, “Harry Potter”
  • Scarlet O'Hara, Margaret Mitchell's, "Gone With the Wind" (okay, so she's technically the protagonists, but she's one bad lady!)

 Just what is it that attracts us so?

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

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