Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Indian Soul

copyright 2011, aaron paul lazar

I’ve always been fascinated by Indian* culture. Not from a touristy point of view, mind you, but more from a strong, unyielding pull that comes from deep inside me and seems to grow stronger with every year.

I’m not sure why this is happening, but I do know I have some native blood flowing in my veins. My grandmother told me that one of her French Canadian ancestors married a native woman. I’ve been proud of that fact all my life, but went along blindly accepting the fact without asking more questions until it was too late. My grandmother and father both died in the same year—1997—and there’s no one else to query about which tribe my great, great, great grandmother may have belonged to, or where she lived in Canada. I do know that my grandmother was born in a little town named Beau Rivage, near Quebec, and that it no longer exists because of an intentional flooding done to create a lake, or some such thing. I never asked my grandmother more than that. Sigh. I really wish I had.

But there’s something inside that draws me to the woods and outdoors with such a visceral pull, I can’t resist. I’m deeply happy when I’m hiking in the woods, tending my gardens, or sitting beside the Sacandaga River. I frequently imagine what life would have been like as an Indian brave—hunting, tending orchards, managing crops, running through the woods all day. It’s more than an occasional speculative thought. I seem to think about it a lot.  

I believe God intended us to live as one with nature, managing our woods and fields carefully, without chemicals. This concept starkly contrasts with the lives many of us have now, sitting in an office behind a computer screen. Our bodies aren’t meant to do that, they’re meant to move and bend, with the strength and agility that comes from activity. If only we could somehow recapture the beautiful, natural ways of our ancestors who lived and nurtured the land, I know we’d eliminate high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and more.

When I started to write my new mystery series, Tall Pines Mysteries, I decided to make my Marcella Hollister’s husband, Quinn, half Seneca Indian. His father—a long dead British playwright—died when Quinn was a baby, bequeathing only his turquoise eyes to his son, who was subsequently raised by his mother, White Dawn, on a Seneca reservation near Buffalo, New York.

The Iroquois Nation, whose people call themselves the Hau de no sau nee, consists of six individual tribes located in the northeastern region of North America. The Six Nations includes the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. I chose the Seneca because I know people of this tribe once lived and walked on the same trails I frequent, and it seemed fitting, you know?

I’ve written two books in the series**, vaguely touching on Quinn’s Seneca background from time to time. In this third book, entitled SANCTUARY, Quinn’s younger cousin, Catori (nicknamed Kitty), arrives in the middle of one rainy night on their doorstep. Evil men from her reservation follow her there, and try to kill her. Although she arrived seeking sanctuary, Quinn and Marcella bring her to their own personal sanctuary, a rustic cabin in the Adirondacks on the beautiful Sacandaga River.

When I write these books, I feel most inspired while sitting by this river, in this cabin, and hiking the deep woods nearby. I picture the land before roads bisected its wild beauty, before electric poles marred its view, in a time when man had to rely on his skill and wit to survive.

Like I said, I’ve always been fascinated by this culture. In lieu of going back in time to live life among the trees and rivers, I guess I’m creating a new world, where treachery may lurk around each corner, but where natural beauty abounds, as well.

I’m taking my time and enjoying the ride...

You can read the first chapters in FOR THE BIRDS and ESSENTIALLY YOURS by clicking on the titles here. Let me know what you think in the comments, below, if you have time!

Best wishes for a blessed Sunday,

Aaron Paul Lazar

 Author with grandchildren Gordie (who loves giving bunny ears), Julian, and Isabella.

*I’ve read a lot of books on Indians lately, and have been educated to discover that most tribes don’t like being called Native American, they prefer either their tribe name (like Seneca or Cherokee), or native people, or Indian. So I’m trying to dump the PA term from most of my discussions to honor them.

**FOR THE BIRDS (Nov. 2011) and ESSENTIALLY YOURS (March 2012) via Twilight Times Books

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lest We Forget

 Please join me today in welcoming Mr. Len Maxwell to Murderby4. Len has generously expended hours and hours to help his writing colleagues remember some of the more commonly "forgotten" rules. He has a wonderful collection of free articles, which I suggest you check out when you can. I've already bookmarked them all and will continue to use them. 

Thank you, Len, for doing this and for your contribution to our collective works!

- Aaron Lazar

© Len Maxwell 2011, all rights reserved

From Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary:

the:  1 a —  used as a function word to indicate that a following noun or noun equivalent is definite or has been previously specified by context or by circumstance  *put the cat out*

Why would anyone start an article with the definition of the word “the”?

I started this article with that definition because it defines a basic word we use every day and many writers have forgotten it. As an editor, I read works from several different authors every day and, over the years, I found that many of them had forgotten some basics.

I joined six years ago to give me a forum on which I could post my latest work for my family and friends. After becoming more involved with the Gather experience, I joined the Writing Essential Group and noticed the same errors popping up frequently.

I finally realized that many of the writers had not started writing until they were older and had merely forgotten the basic mechanics of writing they had learned many years before.

One of the biggest problems was that writers had trouble with punctuation in and around dialogue so I wrote a tutorial regarding that. Receiving many positive comments, I wrote another dealing with numbers. The idea ballooned after that and I wrote more on various topics.

For each topic, I researched major style guides and various Internet sites. I then compiled the information I found and presented the results. I tried to show those things about which all (or most) of the references agreed, those things where there were some minor disagreements, and those things about which there were considerable disagreements. I tried to maintain a neutral position, but I occasionally indicated that something was my personal preference.

My thought in writing these was that they were intended for the older writers who might have forgotten some rules -- I wasn’t trying to teach an English course. That’s reinforced by the fact that my writing style is definitely not something you’d find in any classroom textbook because I take a light-hearted approach to each subject.

In every article, I included samples of things that were accepted by most guides. In The Dreaded Comma, I had this section about which I found no arguments.

There are a number of usages that are accepted by nearly all references.


Use commas after the street address and city in an address.

            My address is 5468 15th Street, San Bernardino, CA  92410

(Note: there is no comma after the state and that is not my real address.)


Use a comma after the greeting in personal letters.

            Dear Aunt Sue,

Note that in business you would use a colon.

            Dear Mrs. Maxwell:

Use a comma after the complimentary close in any correspondence.

            Very Truly Yours,

* * *

I frequently pointed out that there is a difference between what writers learn in school and what happens in the real world. In Paragraphing I discussed the difference between publishing on the Web and in the print media.

Online or Print Media?

The final discussion deals with something that is not covered in most writing courses -- long paragraphs. If you’re publishing in the print media you’re only limited in the length by your publisher. There are any number of examples of writers filling one or two complete pages with a single paragraph.

On line, however, there is a difference. There are many people who have rather klutzy browsers and have trouble reading large blocks of text online. Although there’s no real standard for it, many of my peers feel that paragraphs for online writing should be kept under 150 words.

* * *

I tried to include information that was current even when it might be controversial. In Non-Sexist Writing I included a discussion dealing with gay and lesbian relationships.


I found a couple of sites that got somewhat carried away in my opinion. One suggested you not use mother or father, but should write maternal or paternal parent. Although that sounded silly and was in the minority, it did make me think about a situation we have more frequently now than several years ago. How do we talk about parents in a gay or lesbian relationship?

One site recommended not talking about either a mother or father, but always use “parent.”

Another site agreed with that unless the involved couple considered themselves to be “mom and dad.” In that case they said the actual usage would depend on the feelings of the specific couple. You could either write about “mom” and “dad” or use “father-figure” and “mother-figure.”

            In one relationship Sam was always the “mom” and George was always the “dad.”
            In another relationship Sue was the “father-figure” and Janet was the “mother-figure.”

* * *

If, in my research, I found something that was out of the ordinary, I’d include it just to ensure balance. In Colons I had just such a thing.

Internet Usage

I’m not the one to agree or disagree with this, but I’ll give you one discussion I found regarding Internet usage. I found two sites that agreed on this and none that disagreed. I’m not saying the following is right, but I can’t find anyone who has disagreed with it.

The most common usage is a colon (:) denoting two vertically aligned eyes used in emoticons.

Double colons (or asterisks) are used in some sites to separate sounds.

            John heard the ::snap:: of the bone in his arm.
            John heard the **snap** of the bone in his arm.

Colons (and double colons) are sometimes used in place of quotation marks.

            George: Why do I have to study grammar? It doesn’t do anything for my future.
            Frank: Oh? How about the fact that learning ::grammar:: actually makes you sound smart.

* * *

I tried to present a balanced look at how different style guides approached the various points. In Acronyms I included this discussion.

How do you use an acronym in text?

All guides agree on two things. First, if it’s something that is so widespread that nobody can mistake it, just use it. NATO, scuba, radar, laser, and sonar are examples. The only time you’d spell out the meaning is if that entity is the subject of your discussion. For instance, if you were writing an article on scuba equipment, you might start with something such as this: Today I’m going to discuss the development of the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA).

Second, you always spell out the phrase the first time you use it and can then use the acronym in subsequent references. Here’s where different guides disagree on how to do it.

The Chicago Manual of Style says to set off the acronym in parentheses. (My preference.)

            The programmer used Disk Operating System (DOS) to complete the task. He had some problems because DOS wasn’t compatible with his machine.

Other style guides recommend commas.

            The programmer used Disk Operating System, DOS, to complete the task. He had some problems because DOS wasn’t compatible with his machine.

The AP style guide eschews both of these and says to use the whole term the first time and the acronym after that.

            The programmer used Disk Operating System to complete the task. He had some problems because DOS wasn’t compatible with his machine.

(I don’t have a real problem with this last one unless the first and second usages are several pages/paragraphs apart. It might cause the reader to have to refer back to figure out what’s being said.)

* * *

I tried to include samples that were relevant as well as samples that showed possible misunderstandings. In Punctuation and Dialogue I had the following samples.

Ending Dialogue

Every quotation must end with some punctuation mark: period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, dash, or ellipsis.

Periods and commas ALWAYS go inside the final quotation mark.

            She said, “Get out of here.”
            “Get out of here,” she said
            He was once known as “The Bum.”

At first glance you might think I’m violating that rule with the two following examples. I’ve included an explanation following each explaining why the period is outside what appears to be a quotation mark.

            The proper length is 6’ 8”. [The ” is not a quotation mark, it is an indicator of inches.]
            Watch out for bumblin’ and stumblin’. [The ’ is not a quotation mark, it is an apostrophe.]

* * *

I have, to date, posted fourteen tutorials as listed in this index and I’ve planned three more: Poetic/Artistic License, Dialogue Tags, and Parallel Construction and Body Language. Many writers have given me ideas for other things they’d like to see discussed and I continue to plan future tutorials until, as I say frequently, “someone tells me to shut up.”

I always welcome comments and disagreements on my work.


Len was forty before he figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up -- a writer. For nearly twenty years, he has written for national and regional magazines, journals, and newspapers. For the past several years, he has been working as an editor for Internet sites, a literary agency, and two publishing houses. He now writes for fun and spends as much time as possible in the desert (preferably when it’s over 110 ºF).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Walking Through Your Characters' Next Scene

The Sacandaga River, near Hope, New York
view from Tall Pines cabin

Over an extended Veteran's Day weekend, my wife Dale and I were lucky enough to be able to return to the Tall Pines rustic cabin we discovered in 2009 when I was laid off from Kodak. This place has become my writing nirvana. It's quiet. Isolated. No Internet. No cell service. And a great value.

Last week was our sixth visit, and because the owners are such big-hearted people, it didn't cost us a cent.

I love it so much, I just had to start a new paranormal mystery series based there, called Tall Pines Mysteries. The first book was just released (FOR THE BIRDS, see sidebar on left) and the second book, ESSENTIALLY YOURS, is in the publishing queue for March 2012 release. 

My characters usually transition in the beginning of the story from Honeoye Lake, southeast of Rochester, NY, where they own a lakeside cottage and run an antique shop, to Tall Pines, about four hours away in the southeast corner of the Adirondack Park. 

I'm about halfway through SANCTUARY, book 3, and was looking forward to getting out of the "muddled middle" by placing myself smack dab in the locations of future scenes to get inspired. I craved the woods, the murmuring river, the cool fresh air, the balsam-scented trails...

I needed a mountain for a scene - somewhere folks could ride horses and camp overnight, somewhere with fantastic views of the six million acre park. And, most importantly, I wanted to walk the trail myself. So I started in advance asking about trails from my good friend and "Adirondack advisor," Jonathan Lane, manager of Charlie Johns Country Store in Speculator, NY.  (there is no apostrophe in Johns, that's how they spell it - took me a while to get it right!) Jon has read both FOR THE BIRDS and ESSENTIALLY YOURS, and has advised me on street names and such. I've really enjoyed getting to know him. 

Jon also offered to let me do a book signing this past weekend in his incredible store. It went fantastic, and I met so many super people from the area who also had tons of ideas for me. They drew me maps, told me about the mysterious history of the area, and directed me to books on ghost stories of the Adirondacks, which will likely prime my head full of new ideas.

So, off I went, armed with maps and ideas, ready to search for the "secret" cave at the bottom of Auger Falls, and ready to hike the River Walk in Speculator. I quickly realized that the mountain I dreamed of horses riding up all day long would be too far for me to walk. So, in the end, I made up Whistling Winds Mountain and plunked it in the Silver Lake Sanctuary region. But there were some lovely caves and waterfalls on the Auger Trails hike that are going to be perfect for future scenes in SANCTUARY's final pages.

There is something so alluring about these woodland mountain trails. I think - in all honesty - that I must've been a pioneer in the good old frontier days in one of my former lives. The pull to find out "what's around the bend" is so strong that I have to really police myself. I'd go all day if I could, but I can't do that in good conscience since my wife stays back at the cabin. It wouldn't be fair to her, since her MS makes her legs weak and she can't join me, and there is no cell service on most of these trails, so if something happens to me I'd be alone and stuck out there for who knows how long? Yeah. And it was the middle of November.

Of course, I always bring the camera. Here are some photos from my walks. 

                     Lake Pleasant, Speculator, NY

The Tall Pines Cabin

Algonquin Lake in Wells, NY

Can you see why I'm in love with this place?

While I walked the trails and climbed some hills, I constantly pictured my characters in these scenes, and imagined the action and wild rush of the chase as I clomped along. I fought the urge to follow all the side trails, or drive down a dirt road with no sign... I was always fighting the itch to investigate every inch of this beautiful land.
I wondered how many years it would take me to explore the area so that I've hiked most of the local trails and mountains. A lifetime? Maybe if I lived there, I could do it. 

Setting is one of the most important elements in my novels. Naturally, I need a good plot with lots of twists and turns and surprises. Of course, my characters have to breathe and hurt and love like real people and make my readers care about them. But I need a really good setting to get my juices flowing. I suppose that's because I use so much of nature in my books - I think nature almost is a character in her own right.

How do you imagine your next scene? Do you like to "walk" the scene before you write it? Is it possible for you do that? Or are your settings so far away that you need to use exotic brochures or colorful websites to get your characters where they're going? Or, do you imagine worlds that don't exist in real life, but are very real in your head? 

Let us know about your processes in the comments, below. Please share your thoughts with us. We love comments, and as you probably know, this writing life can be somewhat lonely, so it's a great way to connect with each other.

Meanwhile, life goes on back here in the Genesee Valley, and I have books to finish and dinners to make for the family. Thanksgiving is just four days away, and I have lots to do to prepare.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Warmest wishes,

Aaron Paul Lazar

Friday, November 18, 2011

Introducing Amanda Dickson

© Amanda Dickson 2011 all rights reserved

I am a reformed lawyer.

I suppose it was the bookworm in me, along with the fact that my father was a lawyer and I wanted to be like him that led me to the law in the first place. Once there, I was assaulted with the combative nature of actual practice. I wanted to hide in the library, the safety of the books with their 8 point type and endless references to other cases in which some relevant tidbit might be found.  But in the firm, there was no hiding, except before 7:00 AM and after 8:00 PM and occasionally on Sundays when the senior partners were not to be found.

It has been more than ten years since I paid dues to the Bar Association, although people continue to mention my former status as a lawyer when they introduce me at speaking engagements.  I am not embarrassed by it, not much anyway. I am grateful.  It gave me my first novel - A GENTLE THIEF.
A GENTLE THIEF is based on my first real case as a young associate, a case so shocking to the senses that I knew even before I understood the facts that it should be a novel someday.  I could barely keep myself from writing the book at the time.  I can recall my senior partner, the man upon whom the character Rick Day is based, saying to me gruffly as we entered an elevator, “If you write this book, Dickson, you better make us have an affair,” and then laughing.  

That was his way.

I left out the affair.

I suppose I have dreamed of writing novels, as so many writers do, from the time I was a child.  I grew up in a large home in a small town in Pennsylvania where there was very little to do except run around outside (which I quickly tired of) and read (which I never tired of).  I read classics before I was able to understand them, Nancy Drew, Watership Down, Dickens. Reading outside under trees was the family pastime.  

I now have a large family of my own, five children ages 4 to 23.  My home in West Jordan, Utah, is a noisy one.  There is a lot of yelling (most from the two younger boys) and asking for things, a lot of needs, music playing, televisions and ipads always on in several rooms at the same time.  Not an environment conducive to writing.  And yet, I am writing these words now with a fireplace on my right and my husband on my left in complete quiet.  

It must be a pre-Christmas miracle.

That, or this opportunity to talk about the book here in your blog has somehow created the physical opportunity to talk about the book.  I have always found the time to write - somehow.  I have written four other books, three of which have been published, all non-fiction.  They grew out of the speeches I give.  Without intending to do so, I have become something of a motivational speaker.  The first book is really just a long speech entitled WAKE UP TO A HAPPIER LIFE.  The second book also came from speeches I began giving on the topic of change, a topic companies started asking me to address several years ago.  I would be hired as a speaker toward the beginning of the recession by corporations that would ask me to help their employees handle change. That prompted my giving a great deal of thought to how I felt about change and how I might bring a little playfulness and embracing to a topic we naturally push away.  And that led to CHANGE IT UP.  The most recent non-fiction title is a book about the unique and powerful healing that comes from female friendship entitled FRIENDS FOR LIFE which will be published in February of 2012.  (The fourth book has not been published yet, although I actually wrote it first.  I wrote it while pregnant at age 43, an inherently unstable and comical state.  Its title is CAN I SMELL THE BABY?)

All of these non-fiction books were written to support my family.  I saw the writing of them as work, joyful work at times, but work.  But not the novel.  The novel - its writing, its plotting, the dreaming of it and putting it on paper, all of it - was pure heaven.  My only regret is that I let it stew in me for as long as I did.

I am currently working on two more novel ideas, one with my husband and one alone.  (My husband is also a gifted writer.)  I don’t have his permission to share his idea here, but the one I am working on alone is a simple enough plot that I hope will hold the reader’s attention in the telling.  It is set in the small town of Evanston, Wyoming, home to the State Hospital, hundreds of oil workers coming and going, artisans of various kinds who always stay longer than they plan, and cowboys, of course.  It is Wyoming.  The plot involves the owner of a small book store, a middle aged woman, who feels oddly drawn to a man 15 years her junior who she hires to work at the store, even though she doesn’t really need help.  Their friendship and love of books leads to an affair that goes as bad as any affair can go, and then worse.  What happens to her and to the town depends on your PERSPECTIVE, which is the working title of the book.  

Thank you so very much for the opportunity to be a guest here.  What an honor and a pleasure it is for me, a lover of mysteries and books of all genres, to visit this site created by writers for writers.  I thank you.

About the author:  
Amanda Dickson is a radio announcer, author, newspaper columnist, and speaker based in Salt Lake City. Amanda earned her B.A. in English and her Juris Doctorate at the University of Utah. She practiced law for a brief time before returning to her first love of radio. Amanda taught Mass Communication Law at the University of Utah, becoming a favorite professor among the students. Amanda published her first book in the fall of 2007, Wake Up to a Happier Life. Her second book, Change It Up, came out in October of 2009. Her new book, Friends for Life, is due out in January of 2012. Amanda is married and the step-mother of three children. She is also the indulgent mother of two children. For more info, go to

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Interview with Robin Waldrop

Please help me welcome Robin Waldrop to Murderby4 today. She is giving away one FREE copy of TIES TO THE BLOOD MOON! Just comment below and a winner will be chosen. Easy as pie, right?

Welcome, Robin!
    APL: Tell us about TIES TO THE BLOOD MOON: what’s it about, and how we can get it? What inspired you to write this book?   
      RW: TIES TO THE BLOOD MOON is about a teenage girl who moves in with her aunt in Alaska after the death of her mother. Soon after her arrival she learns that  the things she was raised to believe only existed in fairytales are in fact a big part of her history. When it gets to be too much she seeks refuge in the arms of her boyfriend only to find out he's not who she thought he was either. It's available on all of the digital sites. I came up with the idea pretty much the same way I come up with all my ideas for books…in my dreams.

       APL: Robin, what is your earliest memory of writing and what did you write? When did you feel that you wanted to be a writer? When did you make the decision to sit down and start working on BLOOD MOON? 

RW: My earliest memory has to be when I was about four. I wrote a commercial about selling used cars and performed it for my mom and dad. I always loved to write, but never took it seriously until a couple years ago when I started to read a book that was given to me, and it was so bad I couldn't even get through the first chapter. I threw it down and my husband asked me what was wrong. after I told him I could write better than that, he told me to do it. I asked, "Do what?" He said, "Go write a book!" I fought it for a while, but the idea just stuck in the back of my mind, and one day when I could no longer fight it, I sat down at the computer and wrote my first novel.

APL: What type of books did you enjoy reading in elementary and high school? 

RW: Romance novels, and murder mysteries. I really loved Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (Am I telling my age?)

APL:  I know you are a very fast writer. Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline? Do you imagine the “movie” in your head? Do you just start writing and see what comes out? These are all valid and common processes- how do they compare to yours? 

RW: Aaron, I am what people call a "by the seat of your pants" kind of person. After I come up with a general idea, I just start writing and the characters tell me their story. 

APL: What are some of your favorite books you’ve read this year? Are any of them in the genre you are now writing? 

RW: Yes. I happened across Amanda Hocking's books and fell in love with the genre. Her writing style mimics mine a good bit. I am a down to earth writer, and I write in an easy to read style. I guess that's why I found her work so easy to read.

APL: How much research, if any, do you do for your books? 

RW: I'm ashamed to say I don't put a whole bunch of time into research. I mean, I do what is necessary to make my novels as realistic as possible, but I don't put months of my time into research. if I get stuck in the middle of a scene, I'll jump on the web and look up just what I need to.

APL: Have you always been fascinated by werewolves and vampires? 

RW: Not really. When I was little I loved the show "Dark Shadows" with Barnabas Collins played by Jonathan Frid. As far as werewolf movies, not really until recently. All the new vamp/wolf shows helped to change my perspective on fantasy.

APL: Who is your favorite character from the book? What is the most difficult part of writing for you?  

RW: My protag.,Genevieve is my favorite, but I love all of her friends too. Once you read TIES TO THE BLOOD MOON you will love them, too. The most difficult part of writing for me is the first chapter. When I start a novel I might write the first chapter ten times before I get it just right. But, after that, it's all down hill…lol.

RW: Tell us about your website/blog and where we can learn more about you and your books. 

APL: I really just have a blog. That's where I put everything about both me and my work. I also am very active on facebook, and I tweet some, too.,,

TIES TO THE BLOOD MOON is available on all the digital sites and it will be out in print soon. I'm not exactly sure how long that takes, but when it does become available, it will be listed on the sites as well. Book 2 is underway, and I hope to have it ready shortly after Christmas. I also have a short story for sale by a small ePublisher, Books To Go Now. I also write FBI suspense/thriller novels. The Cabin will be out sometime in early 2012 

 Robin Waldrop, author