Thursday, April 25, 2013

Coffeehouses and writing

I started this train of thought over at my personal blog Writing Space but wanted to go a little deeper here.

What is it about coffeehouses and writing that go together?

Used to be that coffeehouses, or cafes, were the social centers of the era. In my youth, I recall seeing men seated in the vinyl and chrome booths reading their newspapers and smoking cigarettes while they sipped coffee and dreamed of writing the next bestseller. Yes, they wore Fedoras. Yes, they had trench coats.

In later years, I've witnessed groups of older men ( the same ones perhaps?) gathered around checkered tablecloths to exchange stories, sip their java, and enjoy the company of one another. They didn't seem too interested in writing books, and none of them read a paper. Smoking was delegated to outside the eating area too, so few of them inclined to leave the group for a smoke.

And now, they tend to stay clear of the new trendy sorts of coffeehouses with the endless lists of espresso drinks and specialty sandwiches. Not that I mind, you see, as these places are now my own haunts.

There are no more newspapers to read really, and few sunny spots unless you want to sit outside(patios are all the rage) -- and again, smoking is completely vanquished, but I still haunt them. And I do take my laptop. And I do write. I am the dinosaur still dreaming of that next bestseller.

Keep dreaming, Murderers. Keep sipping that black magic.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Thank you, Downton Abbey, for Making Me a MURDERER!

First of all, I have to blame my mother for getting me hooked on Downton Abbey. While visiting her last November, we spent several days enjoying walks in the woods, cooking together, playing scrabble, and yes—watching Downton Abbey every evening.

I’d heard about it, of course. But I had no idea.

I mean, NO idea.

This series is so addictive I was riveted to the television—a very unusual situation for me, mind you. We started out with season one, and by the time I was ready to fly home I’d already ordered the first two seasons (I HAD to own them!) and pre-ordered season three.

I was seriously hooked. I adored the characters.

Bates. Mrs. Hughes. Anna. Sybil. Thomas. O’Brien. William. Daisy. Mrs. Patmore. Oh, I could list the whole darned cast here, they are all so good. If you’ve watched the show, I’m sure you know what I mean.

There’s a lot of history and gorgeous countryside, stupendous shots of the inside of this authentic marvelous home in England. Horses. Dogs. And drama.

Oh, the drama. The superb conflict. And last, but certainly not least, the unrequited love…

I’m a terrible sucker for unrequited love, and I feature it continuously in my mysteries. I love the aching, the longing, the never-quite-making-it-there sensation of one loving another, but the other doesn’t quite get it. And maybe the guy really loves the gal but she thinks he hates her… you know exactly what I mean, don’t you?

There’s a slight soap opera-ish quality to the Downton Abbey storylines, but they’re much more dignified and told in such a classy setting that it doesn’t seem over-the-top, it seems just right. In Downton Abbey, one’s emotions are pulled and stretched taut in the opposite direction – usually during only one episode.

This program is so invasive, that I couldn’t stop thinking about the huge cast of family and servants. I’d ached for resolution. I pined for the characters. I dreamt about them.

I watched the first two seasons night after night with my wife, who to my delight also became hooked. During Christmas, all I could think of was the DVD set due in January. Season three was on its way.

When it arrived (shortly after I finished with Murdoch Mysteries, season five, another absolutely addictive and marvelous series!), we watched every night.

That’s when the producers blew me away by starting to kill people.

Okay, so they did kill one very dear and sweet character earlier on. (I won’t mention his name here in case you haven’t watched yet.) I was heartbroken, lamenting his loss for months.

Seriously, I was SO upset. I couldn’t help but rant about it. Eventually, I got over it and realized maybe the young actor had greener pastures to pursue. I forgave the producers for killing him off.

Then—to my horror—they killed yet another character! This one was one of my all time favorites. A brave, sweet, innocent, darling girl. I was furious! My wife and I stared open-mouthed at each other, sputtering, “How COULD they?” It took a while to get used to this travesty until the last episode of season three rolled onto the screen.

Guess what? They did it again, only this time to one of the main characters who had shaped the series from day one. A MAJOR character, one without which you could never imagine the series going forward.

I’ve been thinking about how much this upset my wife and me, and all our family and friends who also follow Downton Abbey. We talked about it for days, still horribly upset about the losses.

It was at that point I started to think about how much of a splash those killings had started. Boy, did they get good press out of it. And, in my author’s brain, I started to think the unthinkable.

Should I kill off one of my main characters?

Sure, I’ve “killed” before, I write mysteries, after all. Some feature characters have been hurt or even murdered. And in For Keeps, I killed off a beloved main character, only to bring her back again through some pretty fancy time-travel footwork into Sam Moore’s past. But in general, I have promised my readers “I’ll never hurt or kill one of the main characters you have come to love” in either LeGarde Mysteries, Moore Mysteries, or Tall Pines Mysteries.

I seriously wondered if I should I break my promise.

When this all turmoil and upheaval in Downton Abbey took place, I was smack dab in the middle of writing my seventeenth book, the fourth in my Tall Pines Mystery series. (Book 1: Forthe Birds (2011, Twilight Times Books); Book 2: Essentially Yours (2012, Twilight Times Books), Book 3: Sanctuary (coming soon); book 4: Murder on the Sacandaga).

I started to consider doing away with Quinn (Marcella’s beautiful Seneca husband), or Sky (her ruggedly handsome ex-beau from her youth), or Callie (my protagonist’s agoraphobic best friend).

I pondered the impact of how these deaths would shape the future of the series. How would the dynamics change? Would it be too dark? Too maddening? Too damned sad?

I expanded my sights to Copper, the six-foot tall black policewoman with an attitude who had rescued Callie from her sadness and become her soul mate and partner. After all Callie had endured—and her past traumas were extreme—could I now deprive her of the one woman she’d found to love?

I decided to do it.

I wrote the chapter. The serial killer went on a rampage and in the heat of trying to escape, killed Copper.

I kept going, not allowing myself to think too much. But inside, I kept thinking how could I do that? What’s Callie going to do? She’ll be totally destroyed!

Since I did this horrific thing, I’ve been second-guessing myself to the point of obsession. I’m already obsessed to the point of lunacy about my characters, but this is getting bad, really bad.

I might “undo” it now. I think I have complicated the plot a little too much with this murder. On top of all the other poor victims of the serial killer… it may be just too much.

So, thank you, Downton Abbey, for messing up my focus and making me into a senseless murderer.

(And seriously, thank you Downton Abbey for giving us such a thrill ride this year!)

 - Aaron Paul Lazar

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Grace Painter by Mark Romang

Thanks very much to Tribute Books for allowing me to do this review.

My review:

The Grace Painter is about people who change from what the world thought they were to who God intended they become. Matthew London went from a NYPD hostage negotiator to a painter of Renaissance style art.  Annie left behind her childhood's painful memories to stop the same thing from happening to another. Even the bad guys- those nasty Boudreaux brothers- found out that you can run but you cannot hide from God.

This book has mystery, suspense, romance, and faith-based concepts all rolled into one. Each chapter is almost like a vignette of a person and their world and how it intersects with London's, aka, Jon Rafter- and the author creatively brings all that intrigue into the story and makes it fit somehow. If the plot suspense isn't high enough for you, there are bullets flying everywhere, and a monster hurricane stirring up the tension in this story as well. Mr. Romang didn't disappoint in the end, either, tying all these threads up with a big blue bow for the reader.

The Grace Painter was my first Christian mystery, and the first book I have read by Mr. Romang. Not for the last time, I will warrant. His ability to inject human nature and how it reacts to life into his work was true art. Art, like a painting. Pun totally intended.


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The Grace Painter Book Summary:

Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is the one reflecting back at you from inside a mirror. Matthew London can attest to this difficult truth. Ever since the former NYPD hostage negotiator changed his identity and fled New York City for the backwaters of Louisiana, regret has ruled his life.

For eight years London has lived like a hermit in a declining plantation house. Only his talent for painting Renaissance-style murals and paintings keeps the inner-demons from totally destroying him. Each day the disgraced hostage negotiator longs for a chance at redemption, never expecting it to actually happen. But then a down-on-her-luck FBI agent shows up on his doorstep one evening. It turns out Jean-Paul and Sebastian Boudreaux, two local brothers famous for lawlessness have inadvertently kidnapped a little girl.

London is quickly thrust into the starring role of a daring rescue attempt. But before he can rescue the child from the dangerous Boudreaux brothers, he first must find a way to forgive himself for a past misstep, a blunder that forever altered his once promising life. But in the Atchafalaya Basin swampland, nothing is promised. Grace cannot be purchased or earned. It can only be given.

Mark Romang's Bio:

I was born in 1967. Avid reader, suspense novelist, faithful husband, baffled father, factory worker, reformed head-banger, failed musician, contact sports lover, MMA enthusiast, distressed KC sports fan, Lord of the Rings geek, workout fiend, dog owner, nature lover, proud American, disgruntled voter, pistachio addict, caffeine-riddled, screw-up saved by grace, sojourner. This is me in a nutshell.

Price/Format: $0.99 ebook
Pages: 303
Publisher: self-published
Release: November 26, 2012

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Editing: Be Brief

Being brief in your writing is very important in this world of ours and its "catch me quickly" attitude. I mean, come on. Twitter anyone? 140 characters and that's all folks.

So, how do you know when you are NOT being brief? Well, by using words that are not necessary. Sometimes I think we repeat ourselves and don't even realize it. Like saying, the blood pooled around the body and in the next sentence or two talk about how the blood around the body had made the carpet   wet or how it looked like a blood bathtub, outlining the corpse. Isn't that basically the same thing? Couldn't you say it all in one sentence?

Also, telling the reader every move the character makes. She rose in the morning, pulled on her Manolos, wiped the blood off, buttoned her skirt, opened the door, walked to the mailbox, put a letter in, picked up the paper, and had her morning coffee. Is that really necessary? How about this : Jane woke early, killed her husband, got dressed, and acted normally. (I know, that sort of is sucky writing but I am just trying to make a point).

And remember, the more characters you have in a story, the more dialogue you have, the more information you have to get across so all of them play the proper part. This equals words, people. What if you did the above exposition about every move that 10 characters made? This would not only be boring writing, it would be a VERY long book. The longer the book, the less chance of publication. Sad, but true. Paper costs money.

So - these are only a few things that can cause you to be overly wordy. I am sure you can think of more. I hope this tip has helped you! Go forth. Write. And EDIT for brevity!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Podcast do-over

All that talk a few weeks ago about podcasts gave me the bug to do one again. Okay, so sue me. I know I must be nuts. I booked the entire group of shows I wanted to do for April in 24 hours. Go figure. But wait, that's a good thing, right?

I hope to think so.

If you loved following my show, Introducing Writers, then get your bookmarker ready. I have started up Writer Groupie because I have always said I am one. I love writers and books and all things related.

The Show Site :

Your newest site for fun! And if you are a writer and want to get on the show, just email me. Or Facebook me. Or ... heck, post a comment below!

This Friday, April 5, 10 PM.  And every Friday for the month. It is ROMANCE time - Murderers. Get your fill of the hottest authors with the hottest novels.

I hope to do a children's/ YA month and oh yeah, a mystery/suspense/thriller month so now is when you should book with me!