Thursday, March 27, 2014

Inspiration, who has it and where can I get some?

The subject of today’s post is inspiration! Where can you get some? What can you do with it?

Well, first of all, if you write, you can find inspiration just about anywhere. The inspiration is always there, but it is usually the motivation that hampers our efforts. But I digress.

A few places to get you started would be:
1. The Internet. Heckfire, you can find a TON of great things to inspire you just by surfing. Find blogs to read, find news stories. They say that more and more people are hitting the web for their newspaper reading so get out there and join them!
2. How about television? I know there are a bunch of great stories that are on each week. I can turn the volume down and make up my own story just by watching their facial expressions.
3. Read! There are so many fabulous books out there with information about anything you will ever want to know. How about a book on sailing? Golf? Building a better birdhouse? Can you just see what your mind will do when you find new information to digest?

And so on. There is no limit to inspiration! I can find something to write about from listening to the birds chirping outside my front door. It depends on what your mood is, and what your plan is. I am sure chirping birds can have a place in a suspense thriller if they suddenly shut up, right?

Since I will be out enjoying spring, I am leaving you with a few pics I've snapped as I drove around town. Maybe these pictures will inspire you to write about a season like this.

Happy Thursday everyone!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lady Blues: The Food Matters in a "Literary Sine Wave" by Aaron Lazar

copyright 2014 Aaron Paul Lazar

Gus LeGarde, the main character in Lady Blues: forget-me-not, has always loved to cook for his friends and family. Every Sunday he invites his mother-in-law, her cop boyfriend, the reverend from church, his daughter’s fiancé, elderly family friends, Oscar and Millie Stone, and anyone else who he happens to befriend in each new book in the series of ten mysteries starting with Double Forté.

I didn’t plan it this way, but when I wrote the first book and every novel since then, I’ve employed the device of tension and release, or what I like to call the "literary sine wave." I feature an action vignette first – someone’s being chased or there’s a tornado coming, or a saboteur is pulling nasty tricks backstage on high school kids…then when the scene fades, I “pan” to a family vignette. Gus is cooking, or playing with his grandkids, or walking through his gardens. Family is shown in their every day chaos or quiet, and I use these scenes to encourage my readers care about Gus and his family, who will be most definitely threatened in scenes to come.

It just so happens that when we’re the “lower” half of the sine wave, beneath the x axis, if you will, in those quiet times, Gus tends to be cooking.  

I’ve pulled meals from my own life every time I need material for these scenes. Yes, every meal Gus cooks, I’ve probably just cooked the weekend before I wrote that chapter. Yes, in a large family feast. Yes, for lots of family around a table much like Gus’s. But how Gus and I are alike is an article for another day.

Some of my readers have expressed interest in recipes from the books. In Lady Blues, I do feature a fair amount of comfort food.  Problem is, I don’t cook by the book. I just sort of estimate everything and throw things together. That’s how Gus does it, too. But today I’ll try to make things a bit more specific. ;o) Use your own judgment, though. If you need more or less of something to make it work, just do it. We don’t stand on ceremony in the LeGarde…er…Lazar household.

Here are a few of the meals Gus cooked in Lady Blues: forget-me-not. I’m not a recipe writer, I’m a seat-of-the-pants cook. So I hope the quantities I estimated here will work for you.

Scalloped Tomatoes (that’s right, not potatoes!)

This dish is very popular in my house. It’s also very fattening, but we don’t care when it’s a special occasion. It’s also very easy to make. I use frozen tomatoes from my garden, defrosted and drained, but you can use chopped canned tomatoes if you have them, or whole roma tomatoes, canned or fresh. I leave the skins and seeds in, and they taste just fine.

This will feed a huge crowd, and I bake it in an enormous rectangular baking pan, but you can use whatever is handy and cut the amounts in half if you’re serving a smaller family.

Ingredients (roughly estimated)

- 8 cups chopped, diced, or whole plum tomatoes, drained of all liquid (squish ‘em in a colander)
- 8 cups Mozzarella or cheese of your choice, shredded
- 1 pound butter
- 1 box of coarsely crushed ww Saltines or regular Saltines (other crackers or crumbs can work) (I put them in a big baggie and mash them with a rolling pin.)


1. Melt the butter and mix with the crushed crackers. (You can add parsley or any seasonings you prefer, but it doesn’t need much!)
2. Build layers of tomatoes, cheese, buttered crackers (like lasagna) until the dish is full. I usually get about three layers of each.
3. Cover with shredded cheese and/or crumbs.
4. Bake for ~ an hour until the cheese is melted and crispy on top.

That’s it!

(I told you it was fattening, but it’s so delicious, it’s worth the calories!)

Homemade cranberry sauce with pears

This is so easy to make, I often prepare it when we serve baked turkey legs, or turkey patties. I made it for Thanksgiving, too, but I’m the only one who likes it over the gelled type of canned cranberry, LOL. I buy bags of cranberries around Thanksgiving and freeze them for the whole year. That way, I can just grab one from the freezer and make this in 15 minutes.


- One package fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1-2 cups sugar or sweetener of your choice (I used Blue Agave sometimes)
- Two pears, skinned and diced
- Cinnamon
- Nutmeg


1. Place frozen or fresh cranberries and pears in a large stockpot and cover with water.
2. Boil until nearly softened.
3. Add sweetener at the end to make it syrupy. If using sugar, you need several cups to counteract the delicious tartness of the berries.
4. Sprinkle cinnamon and a little bit of nutmeg.

Gus LeGarde is now officially proud of you.  ;o)

 Bavarian Cabbage

This dish goes great with pork chops, mashed carrots and parsnips, or a pork loin roast. Adjust the flavors as you go to suit your taste.


- One head red cabbage, sliced
- Six tart apples, peeled and sliced.
- Two onions, thinly sliced
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Vinegar OR Apple cider, about 1 cup
- Brown Sugar, about 1 cup, but add more or less to taste
- Clove powder, just a tiny sprinkle at the end.


1.     Sautee onions in EVOO until translucent.
2.     Add red cabbage and apples, apple cider (or vinegar).
3.     Cook down until the cabbage and apples are tender, keep stirring.
4.     Add brown sugar to taste halfway through cooking. The color will become more purple/blue as the dish cooks down.  
5.     Adjust flavors until it has a sweet/sour taste and sprinkle just a touch of clove powder in at the end. 


Aaron Lazar

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How to Get a TEN book deal

Everyone is talking about how self-pubbed authors are getting picked up by traditional publishers. Someone got a three book deal, someone a five, and I thought, I want a TEN book deal!

So how to go about achieving such a lofty goal? Simple really.

1. Be accessible. You'd be amazed at how many websites I have visited looking for writers to interview on Writer Groupie and they do not have a way to be contacted. Many don't even HAVE a website.

2. As an author, you want someone to notice you-so what is a quick and viable way? Give something away for free. Free will bring readers, all kinds, out like nothing else.

3. Be persistent. You will never achieve even a ONE book deal if you quit. It is a 100% certainty that you will fail if you give up.

4. Learn to be a friend/fan/follower. I mean, if you expect people to follow you, or fan you, or be your friend, then you have to get out there and take the first step--YOU do it first.

5. Be real. Don't try to scam your way into a pro career as a writer. There is so much spam and scam out there now that one has to take a bath after perusing email to clean off from it.

6. Find a niche. There are many many many authors with multi-book contracts now thanks to the fact that they located their niche and stayed with it. Do you like to fish? Write a book. Do you like to build birdhouses? Do a podcast. How about helping authors with their writing? Youtube it.

7. Finally, the old adage is still true. If you love it, others will as well. Only don't just love your writing, your books, your work. ADORE it. Be so passionately in love with it that you stop people on the street and tell them.

I hope you remember me when you are a bajillion bestselling author. You're welcome.

Kim Smith is the author of An Unexpected Performance and coming soon, Loran Rudder and the Secret Key, A YA fantasy

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Foreword’s 2013 Book of the Year Award Finalists Announced and Guess What?

We at MB4 are having a little celebration. 
Listen to this:
"Foreword Reviews, the only review magazine solely dedicated to discovering new indie books, announced the finalists for its 16th Annual Book of the Year AwardsEach year, Foreword shines a light on a small group of indie authors and publishers whose groundbreaking work stands out from the crowd."  
And guess what? There are some familiar names on the list!
I'm delighted to announce that The Seacrest by MB4's own Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the Romance Category for ForeWord's 2013 Book of the Year Award. Congratulations, Aaron!


I'm also proud to announce that The Curse Giver, (Twilight Times Books) my latest novel, is also a finalist in the Fantasy Category for ForeWord's 2013 Book of the Year Award. I'm so honored and excited!


Congratulations are also in order for our colleague at Twilight Times Books, Dina von Lowenkraft, whose novel, Dragon Fire, was also a finalist in the Young Adult Fiction Category.


TRAVERSE CITY, MI, March 13, 2014 — Foreword Reviews, the only review magazine solely dedicated to discovering new indie books, announced the finalists for its 16th Annual Book of the Year Awards today. Each year, Foreword shines a light on a small group of indie authors and publishers whose groundbreaking work stands out from the crowd. Foreword’s awards are more than just a shiny sticker on the front of a book; they help connect the best indie books to readers eager to discover new stories written by previously unknown authors.
In the next two months, a panel of over 100 librarians and booksellers will determine the winners of these prestigious awards. A celebration of the winners will take place during the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas on Friday, June 27 at 6 p.m. with awards in over 60 categories, cash prizes for the best in fiction and nonfiction, and widespread recognition.

Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and three very opinionated cats.

When she is not writing fiction, Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for people interested in reading and writing, and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers.
To learn more about Dora Machado and her novels, visit her website at or contact her at

For a free excerpt of The Curse Giver, visit  http://twilighttimesbooks.comthingsTheCurseGiver_ch1.html.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interview with Linda Rettstatt, Romantic Suspense

Recently, I had the great fortune to visit with one of my favorite authors and luckily a pretty awesome friend, Linda Rettstatt. She agreed to be for our blog here at Murder by 4. Please visit Linda and get to know her. She's fun and has many wonderful books. Here is the interview:

Hello and welcome to Murder by 4! Are you ready for some really tough questions? Just kidding, I’ll go easy on you.

Fire away! I am sitting down, recently fed, and reasonably relaxed.

Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?
I’m an import to the south, having grown up in SW Pennsylvania. I always thought I’d write, but did seriously begin until 2004. In the past ten years I’ve had 18 books published and have 3 more under contract for 2014-15. Prior to pursuing writing, I worked as a musician for my creative outlet and I still work in Social Work to pay the bills. I like to push the boundaries and take on different sub-genres. I started writing Women’s Fiction, expanded into Contemporary Romance, then wrote a Paranormal novella with both romance and mystery and, now, my first Romantic Suspense, Protection.

What made you want to become a writer? I’ve always loved writing in some form, but funneled my creative interests into music for a long time. As soon as I started my first book, I knew without a doubt I’d found my passion.

Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents? Other than tying cherry stems in knots? Well, I play guitar. But nothing so very unusual.

What gives you inspiration for your book(s)? That’s a tricky question. Sometimes the idea for a catchy title gets me thinking about the story behind it. People are great inspiration so, be careful, or you might end up in my book!

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination? Most of my characters come to life on their own, though there are a few that have qualities or quirks of people I know or have met. I try to keep them well-disguised.

Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read? My newest novel, a romantic suspense title Protection, was borne out of a brief conversation with my cousin. She mused that she and friend thought perhaps their priest was really someone in witness protection. That caught my ear. But realizing that would never fly, I turned it around and asked the question: What if a priest had to go into the witness protection program and simply live as a man? The story took off from there and the book practically wrote itself. Here’s the back cover blurb that introduces the main characters:

Jake Garber is a new man after being placed in the witness protection program pending a Federal child-trafficking case in which he’s a witness. Shannon Chase is the identity stolen by a young woman escaping her past to protect her child. A foggy night, a hairpin turn, and a car crash throw Jake and Shannon into one another’s lives where each struggles to protect a secret.

What do you love most about the writing process? Oh, the freedom to create stories and the characters I meet along the way, the ability to take my readers somewhere else, to let them know they aren’t alone. All of it.

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why? My favorite character continues to be Rylee Morgan from Shooting Into The Sun. Perhaps I identify with some of Rylee’s personality quirks. I do love the way she does a 180 turn by the end of the book, letting go of the things from her past that hold her back and opening herself to happiness.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer? That agents weren’t just sitting at their desks waiting for my book to show up!

Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day? I work in social services. My background is in social work and clinical social work. I’ve done everything from case management to psychotherapy. These experiences have given me a lot to work with in terms of understanding how people look at life and cope with stress and still come out the other side stronger, which is what usually happens to mt characters.

Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years? Do you have any other books in the works?
Oh, I can’t think five years ahead. I kind of take things a year at a time. I have two new books coming out this year and a re-publication of a previously published book coming out in 2015. And, of course, there are at least six stories percolating now, some closer to completion than others.

And now, just some little random questions!

Favorite TV show? Castle

Favorite movie? Young Frankenstein

Favorite city?
Mackinac Island, Michigan

Favorite food? Anything chocolate

Favorite book? Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish

To conclude, is there anything you would like to say to your readers? Don’t be shy. Let your favorite authors know you’re out there. We love to get emails and most of us have an email option on our website. And, of course, there are always places to leave reviews and quotes about the books you love, like Amazon, B&, Goodreads.

It was a pleasure hosting you on Mb4 today. I wish you all the best in your career!
Thanks so much for the chance to be here. You made me think about a few things.

Where can we find you online? (please cut and paste links):
Twitter: @linda_rettstatt
Barnes noble:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Japan: A Writer's Perspective


Dora Machado

 Mount Fuji at Sunset

We landed in Japan during a fiery sunset that promised beauty, adventure, challenge and reward. We were not disappointed. Traveling has always been a fundamental source of inspiration for my stories and my trip to Japan was no exception. It was an unforgettable experience, a journey that I will always treasure personally and professionally. 

The journey lasted seventeen days and it took us to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Kinosaki and Hakone-en at the foot of Mount Fuji. It's not easy to summarize my experiences in a single post, but here are five ways in which the trip was especially valuable to me as a writer and, of course, lots of pictures.

1. From the moment we set foot in Tokyo, I was struck by how gracious the Japanese people are. The majority of the people I met in Japan were poised, dignified and polite. I enjoyed the sense of propriety that permeated each contact. The contrast between the modern and the traditional was vivid, common and intense. I have a feeling that my character development skills will benefit greatly from my exposure to the Japanese people.

Geishas in Kyoto

Shoppers in Tokyo

Tokyo's modern landscape, including the famous Sky Tree

Osaka's modern landscape

2. Japan was a huge discovery session to my palate, so many new flavors, so many interesting tastes! Tokyo is full of amazing restaurants. I tried many new foods while I traveled throughout Japan. I made an effort to taste regional and national delicacies and had some amazing meals in the process. Yes, sure, I did have to stretch my comfort zone a few times, but on the upside, my writer's taste bank has been duly expanded.

Delicious dumplings in Tokyo

Out of this world Ramen, also in Tokyo

Awesome Yakitori, chicken skewers in Kyoto

Melt-in-your-mouth Kobe Beef

Amazing snow crab from coastal Kinosaki

Crunchy shrimp tempura in Kyoto

The best tuna Sushi in Tokyo

Out of my comfort zone: pregnant squid

Out of my comfort zone again

Takoyaki, octopus balls

Okonomiyaki, savory Japanese pancakes

Sake: Excellent liquid courage

3. My trip to Japan reminded me that beauty is in the details. As I traveled through Japan's most famous and majestic sites, I realized that these places were beautiful not only because of their history, but also as composites of the striking level of detail. I started to think of these amazing temples and stunning gardens as novels, composed of chapters, paragraphs and sentences, enriched by the level of detail that history and art add to masterful craftsmanship.

Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto. 

The exquisite garden of the Shoren-in Buddhist temple in Kyoto

Gorgeous detail on a silk screen at the impressive Nijō Castle (二条城 Nijō-jō?) in Kyoto. 

Prayer tablets at Meji-jingu, Tokyo's grandest Shinto temple

Carps swimming  in the pond of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, also known as the Kinkaku/Rokuon-ji temple

 The Sanmon, the largest surviving structure in Japan, is the gate to Chion-in Buddhist temple in Kyoto 

The  famous bamboo grove of Arashiyama

The balcony of the Kiyomizu-dera  Buddhist temple, an impressive structure, rising on a hillside on huge timbers and offering gorgeous views of Kyoto 

The Pagoda of the Kiyomizu-dera  temple in Kyoto

The cherry blossoms beginning to bloom at Tokyo's Hamarikyu Gardens

Every path was a work of art at the beautiful gardens of Okochi Sanso in Kyoto

The Buddhist Temple of Todai-ji in Nara was one of my favorites

The giant Buddha of Todai-ji in Nara

Kyoto's Golden Pavilion, also known as the Kinkaku/Rokuon-ji temple

4. My contact with the Japanese culture also reminded me that even in a modern world, rituals, small and big, are important parts of the human experience. Rituals have always been an important part of my stories. In Japan, ritual is an active part of many of the daily experiences. The very specific way in which an authentic Japanese breakfast is served in a ryokan (the equivalent of a Japanese inn or a bed and breakfast), the process of taking a bath in one of the many onsens (public bathhouses), and the traditional tea ceremony are just some of the rituals I had the opportunity to experience and appreciate while I was 

First Course of our meticulously served dinner at our Ryokan in Kinosaki

Tea and sweets during a beautiful afternoon in Tokyo's Hamarikyu Gardens

Detail of a Shinto Shrine in Tokyo

The town of Kinosaki has seven public baths or onsens

The sign of  the Ichinoyu Onsen

5. I also learned that efficiency is at the heart of a thriving society. Japan's public transportation system was incredible. From buses, to metros, to local and bullet trains, all of the cities I visited impressed me with easy-to-use, fast, reliable and extremely punctual transportation. Now if only I could write with the same speed and efficiency of a bullet train!

The Shinkansen, Japan's famous bullet trains

Inside view of the The Shinkansen, fast, clean and dependable.

During our last three days in Japan, we traveled to Hakone-en, where we got snowed in at the foot of Mount Fuji by one of Japan's worst blizzards in the last hundred years. With the roads closed and the snow piled high, we had no choice but to stay put in our hotel and reschedule our flight back to the United States. Very few guests populated the hotel, which is really a summer destination, and since we couldn't get out of the front door, there wasn't much to do. The experience of being trapped in the semi-deserted resort may have been inconvenient—not to mention expensive. The experience of writing non-stop with a stunning view of a snow covered Mount Fuji? Priceless. 

Mount Fuji from our balcony.

Want to know more about our trip to Japan? Visit

Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and three very opinionated cats.

When she is not writing fiction, Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for people interested in reading and writing, and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers. 

To learn more about Dora Machado and her novels, visit her website at or contact her at
For a free excerpt of The Curse Giver, visit  http://twilighttimesbooks.comthingsTheCurseGiver_ch1.html.