Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Beginnings: Slaughterhouse-Five

Every Friday Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. What you do is share the opening line(s) of the book you are currently reading and briefly discuss what you think about the opening line or the book or whatever else inspires you. Make sure to share your entry with Rose City Reader and in my comments below.

Here's my book beginning:

"All this happened, more or less."

-Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

This comes from the introduction of the novel, which is actually chapter one. It suggests that what Vonnegut has to have afterward is not all fiction, though what is and what isn't may be hard to say. Certainly, nobody was ever abducted by aliens, but perhaps Vonnegut's suggested symbolism is true, as a representation of post traumatic stress disorder. I'm over halfway through my second reading, and it's even better this time around.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: For Keeps, by Aaron Paul Lazar (2012)

Aaron Paul Lazar seems like a very nice guy, and his writing reflects this. His prose is easy and pleasant. His characters are nice. Even the murders aren't too nasty. As you might guess, this presents a bit of a storytelling problem: there is a severe lack of tension. Sure, people get murdered, even those close to the main character, Sam Moore, but Lazar's tone suggests that everything is going to be alright in the end. A compelling narrative requires real tension, a fear that something is at stake and could be lost forever. It's clear that this is simply not the case for Lazar's characters, who are too perfect, and who Lazar loves perhaps a little too much.

Sam Moore is a retired doctor married to a wonderful woman named Rachel, who has MS. I liked Rachel. Lazar doesn't sentimentalize her disease, and she provides some laughs when we first meet her. Sam's children are grown up, and his grandchildren are still kids. His tranquil retirement is interrupted by a call from a longtime friend, Lou, a police detective, who wants Sam to come check out a body. Sam, juggling gardening supplies and plants, can't quite figure out why, until he sees the woman, a weekend fling from his distant past. Next to her strangled body is a phone book with Sam's name circled. He needs to figure out why.

Helping Sam out is a green marble that holds the spirit of his brother, Billy, who seems eternally trapped as a five-year-old. Billy sometimes communicates with Sam by whisking him into the past and showing him clues. Sam himself can never interact with these memories; he can only observe. Billy serves mostly as a plot device. His object is to keep the plot moving forward, and, really, the plot could not move forward as it does without Billy's interventions. There's not really a human connection with Billy. He seems more like a thing from above, the author's tool, and sometimes it's not very clear why he vibrates so intensely in Sam's pocket except to remind the reader he's there.

This is book three in the Sam Moore Mysteries series, but you don't really need to have read the previous books to understand this one. Lazar helpfully explains everything, and he also provides a plot synopsis of book two, Terror Comes Knocking. That this is called a mystery is misleading. There aren't enough characters to throw the reader off the scent of the real killer. In fact, the identity of that killer is obvious fairly early on, and details about this killer are also obvious far before they're revealed. The capture and unveiling of the killer happens way too easily. This seemingly clever person gives up without a fight, and even goes so far as to give away more details of their scheme without batting an eye. But, really, uncovering the murderer is not Lazar's ultimate goal.

A time travel element comes into play over halfway through the novel, and this is introduced only to right all wrongs. I said before that Sam can only observe when Billy takes him into the marble, but eventually Sam can do more than observe. He can act and he can change events. That Billy has the ability to transport his brother through time and that Sam can actually affect the time continuum is not something that is questioned or discussed. Lazar writes movingly in an article about the death of a character he loves, and it's clear that the time travel element is meant to undo that tragedy.

I think the problem is that Lazar loves his characters too much. They're based largely off himself and his own family, and this likely motivated him to change the rules of Billy's marble. It seems unfair that a family that is perfect and has everything any family could possibly need can also go back in time to correct things when something bad happens. Why should the Moore family have access to such an ability when other less fortunate families could use it more? Why have it at all? It's a part of real life that things can't be undone, as much as we might wish they can be.

I could see the makings of a good story in the early chapters, and Lazar's storytelling shines at other moments as well, such as the aforementioned death of a loved one. There's just no shades of grey here. The villains are vile and one-dimensional, and the good guys are angelic. Sam is such a nice guy, and he spends his entire day gardening. Every night he feasts on a luxurious meal prepared by Rachel, and now and then they host their children and grandchildren, though we don't really get to know them. Andy is in Afghanistan at the start of the novel. Beth is a lesbian, and we meet her new partner, Nel, towards the end of the novel, and she is far more angelic than the rest of the characters combined. This is all sweet, it really is, but it's difficult to connect with on a human level.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

For Keeps Virtual Book Tour: Guest Post and Giveaway

Writing the Tough Stuff (Or Killing the One You Love)
copyright 2012, Aaron Paul Lazar

It’s not easy writing a scene where you kill the one you love.

Of course I don’t mean your actual spouse or lover. I mean the wife, husband, or sweetheart of your main character.

I’ve done it in FOR KEEPS. Thinking about it tears my heart out every single time.

That’s what I mean by “writing the tough stuff.” Sam Moore—a retired family doctor who is our resident hero in Moore Mysteries—is very much like me, except he’s twelve years older and retired with enough money to putter around in his gardens all day. Let me repeat that. All day!

I hate him for that.

Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme, considering he’s fictional. Shall we say, I am exceedingly jealous of his lifestyle? Although Sam was a family doctor and I am an engineer, we’re still a lot alike. We both love to plunge our hands into the soft earth and grow things. We both love our grandkids so much it hurts. And we both have spouses with multiple sclerosis. There are plenty of differences, too. I cook, I write, and I take photos. Sam doesn’t. But of course, it’s not a competition. At least I don’t think so…

In spite of the fact that he’s not real (at least not in the traditional sense, LOL), I relate to this man and feel his pain when he’s hurting. Sure, you say, writers should feel ALL their characters’ pain. We have to, to get into their heads and nail the characterization. Don’t we?

But I’ll bet some characters are closer to your heart than others.

Sam’s wife, Rachel, shares many qualities with my dear wife, Dale. They both endure MS, they both love to read, they are both chair-caning artists. Some of their symptoms are the same, but that’s where they split apart. Rachel loves to cook (that’s my job in our marriage), she’s in a wheelchair, and she stays pretty upbeat, considering her challenges. They both adore their grandchildren and both love to read. Rachel’s a tribute to Dale, in all honesty. But she also has morphed into her “own woman,” too, and I love her deeply. Er... through Sam, of course. (Honey, don’t be jealous!)

In the first two books of the Moore Mysteries series, Rachel sticks by Sam’s side, supports him when he’s overcome with grief and is plagued by strange paranormal events, and loves him deeply enough to keep him sane.

That’s why it really hurt when I had to kill her.

In For Keeps, the third book in the series, life takes an awful turn. When Rachel is murdered by a serial killer, it puts Sam back in the psych ward, the same place he was thrown when his little brother disappeared without a trace fifty years earlier. Desperate to fix things, he calls on the power of the green marble, the talisman his little brother Billy controls from afar that whisks him back and forth through his past.

Unlike those of us in real life, Sam gets a “do over.” He flies back in time to desperately try to fix the problems that lead to this gruesome act, and over and over again, he attempts to tweak the past to bring his dear Rachel back to life.

How do you write such a scene without losing it? How do you make it feel authentic to your readers? How much is too much? And how can you be certain that your character’s reaction will ring true?

It’s not easy. Matter of fact, since I loosely base Rachel on my own wife, and since Sam and I are really quite alike, it was close to torture.

I called upon my darkest, most powerful emotions experienced when my father died and also when my own dear wife almost died several times in the past few years. I’ll never forget the time the nurse in the ER called the nun on duty to bring me to a little room where no one would see my reaction to her impending news that Dale might not make it. She carried a box of Kleenex under one arm and a bible in the other. She was so sweet. Yet it was one of the scariest moments of my life. Thankfully, my wife pulled through and is doing okay today.

That hollow-gut, black-sludge-in-your-heart feeling is horrible when you lose someone dear to you, isn’t it? It’s all encompassing. Sometimes you just want to deny that awful truth, and pull away—far away—like Sam does in the following excerpt. I tried to channel those feelings when getting inside Sam’s head. Let me know if you think it worked.

Here’s the setup. Sam just picked up his son, Andy, from the airport and they enter the house after arriving home. Andy’s just arrived from his second tour of duty in Iraq, and this is his long-awaited homecoming. Rachel’s been cooking all morning to welcome her boy home. All day, Sam has ignored the insistence of the green marble, which has been pulsing, glowing, and searing his leg all day from his pocket; little brother Billy—who communicates from beyond through this talisman—was trying to “warn” him that something was terribly wrong.

For Keeps is book #3 in Moore Mysteries, and is now available through Twilight Times Books and The series can be read in any order.


Sam raced toward the laundry room in a panic. Rachel’s wheelchair sat abandoned in the hall, and his son froze in the doorway, hands clenching and unclenching at his side.

Andy’s voice thickened. “Maybe you shouldn’t come in here.” He spun and tried to hold Sam back.

One of Rachel’s shoes lay beside the doorjamb. The brown clogs. Slip on. With lambswool lining. She loved them so much she wore them even in summer.

Sam drifted closer, terror pooling in his stomach. As if in anaphylactic shock, his throat tightened and threatened to close off his air. His heart beat wildly now, in his throat, ears, chest.

Sam barreled past his son and stumbled into the room, his voice hoarse. “What happened?”
Rachel lay on a basket of laundry, her eyes wide open, looking with blank surprise at the ceiling. Sam’s garden shears protruded from her heart. The image danced before him like heat waves on tar, shimmering with unreality. Blood ran from Rachel’s floral print blouse to the sheets stained red in the basket, pooling on the white linoleum floor.

The room tilted. A series of screams of No No No No No resonated in his head. Or maybe he yelled it aloud. He couldn’t tell as he shoved Andy aside and collapsed beside her, checking for the pulse that evaded him like a cruel tormentor. Neck. Wrist. Ankles. No beating met his probing fingers.

“NO!” He drew the shears from her chest, sickened by the soft sucking sound it made, then wadded up a compress of pillowcases and held it over the wound to stem the flow. More blood dribbled from the wound and curled around her pearl buttons. He realized with a start that she was still warm.

He looked wildly about the room, as if a solution lay beneath the neatly folded piles of towels and linen. “Call 911. Hurry!” He cradled Rachel in his arms, smearing the blood between them, and feeling her arms dangle away from him, as if she didn’t have the strength to return his embrace.

Andy cried out, his anguish pinging across the small room. He squeezed between his mother’s body and the washing machine, holding his hand out to his father. “Dad. It’s too late. She has no pulse. I checked, too.”

“NO!” Sam’s mind reeled, his vision clouded, and the scent of blood tasted metallic on his tongue. “Who did this? Is he still here? She’s still warm, Andy. Find the bastard!” He stiffened when his brain repeated a phrase he’d heard during some of Rachel’s favorite shows.

Don’t disturb the evidence.

Panic slewed over him, boiling inside his head, freezing his arms and legs.

My garden shears. The killer took them from the barn. Used them on my Rachel. And my prints are all over them.

A great gulping scream filled his throat, tearing out of him like a primal scream. “RACHEL!”
Her head slumped sideways when he moved away, as if she was rejecting him. He checked her pulse again, muttering under his breath. “No way. No. No.” In a sudden manic thrust, he stood and reached for the marble, searching his pockets, patting madly at his pants and shirt. “My God. Where is it? What did I do with it?” Sam asked aloud. “Billy! Why didn’t you warn me?”

Inside the double-stuffed world that batted him between reality and nightmare, he remembered the marble’s insistent throbbing all morning. Billy had tried to warn him, had tried hard.

“Dad, come on. You can’t help her now.” In spite of Andy’s two tours of duty in the heat of battle in Iraq, the bodies he had seen and possibly created, and his soldier-toughened soul, he wept. Loud and strong, he wept and choked on his words. “Dad. Please. Leave her be. It’s over.”

Andy pulled him to his feet. Sam stared at his son as if he’d never seen him before. His eyes widened, trying to piece together a puzzle. Who is this nice young man? And why does he look so familiar?

Andy took him by the elbow and started to shuffle him toward the living room.
“Come on, Dad. Let’s go sit down.”

“No. Please. My wife needs me. She has multiple sclerosis, you know.”

Andy’s eyes popped open. Tears still streamed from them, and he shook his father’s shoulders as if he could not only snap him out of it, but maybe bring back his mother, too.

“Dad! Come on. Hold it together. Don’t do this.”

Sam stopped and stared at his bloodied hands. His legs weakened to jelly. He stumbled, then braced himself against the wall as sobs wracked him in waves of increasing amplitude. He slid to the floor and buried his face in his hands.


Dear God.

Not Rachel.


Thanks for reading! I hope you were drawn into Sam’s world, and that you might want to see how our favorite retired family doctor gets out of this one.

FREEBIE! The FOR KEEPS Kindle eBook will be free to all readers on Sept. 14th, 15th, and 16th 2012, as well as on October 12th and 13th. Please stop by for your free download here. Also, all of my other books in my three mystery series will be priced at $1.99 during this sale. Check them out at

Aaron Paul Lazar

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Beginnings: For Keeps

Every Friday Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. What you do is share the opening line(s) of the book you are currently reading and briefly discuss what you think about the opening line or the book or whatever else inspires you. Make sure to share your entry with Rose City Reader and in my comments below.

Here's my book beginning:

" “Murdered?” Sam juggled four pots of yellow daylilies in his arms, squeezing the cell phone between his shoulder and ear. “Where? And why in the world do you need me?” "

-For Keeps, by Aaron Paul Lazar

Sam Moore's no detective, but he does find himself connected to a murder. The opening does a good job of getting the reader's attention, and it also displays Lazar's vibrant writing style. I'm hosting a Virtual Book Tour for For Keeps this weekend, as Aaron is giving away free copies on the Kindle, but for this weekend only (and for a weekend in October). If you're interested, you can check it out here.

For Keeps Virtual Book Tour September 14-16: Interview, Excerpt, and Giveaway

 This weekend I am hosting the For Keeps Virtual Book Tour. For today I have an interview with the author, Aaron Paul Lazar, as well as an excerpt from his latest novel, For Keeps. Tomorrow I plan to post an article Aaron has written titled "Writing the Tough Stuff (or Killing the One You Love)." And, time permitting, I will try to get you a review of the book by Sunday. For now I will just say that it is a pleasant, easy read.

For this weekend only, September 14-16 (as well as October 12-13), Aaron is giving away an unlimited number of free copies of his novel on the Kindle. Yep, a free copy for all! All you have to do is click this link to Amazon.

And now to let you get to know Aaron, who I can say from my email correspondence with him is a very nice guy: Who are some authors you draw inspiration from?

A. These days I am nuts about Michael Prescott’s thrillers. He writes with consummate skill and I love “learning” from him. I’m also a die-hard John D. MacDonald fan, particularly of his Travis McGee series. I’ve been enjoying Warren Adler’s books lately, too. And I find there are so many new Indie authors out there who are just wonderful, like Joan Hall Hovey. It’s a veritable smorgasbord in our new world of instant downloads and free eBooks. I’m loving it! I also have read and loved the following authors: Dick Francis, Clive Cussler, Laurie R. King, Rex Stout, Peter Mayle, Tony Hillerman, Dean Koontz, SW Vaughn, Lesia Valentine, Bob Burdick, Lad Moore, Marta Stephens, and Patricia Fowler.

Q. Where did you get your inspiration to write the Moore Mysteries series?

A. I blame Moore Mysteries on my wife.

I was minding my own business, wrapping up the fifth novel in the LeGarde
Mystery series, when she turned to me and said, “You need to write a book from
the killer’s point of view.”

I laughed out loud. I’d always written in first person, from a man whose character was diametrically opposed to villains. He was a good man, a man I admired and wanted to share with the world. Sure, he had his faults, but how could I switch from that kind of mindset to the inner thoughts of a killer?

Dale reads Stephen King and James Patterson. She loves psychological thrillers and even a little horror. Not like me with my relatively wholesome mysteries that skirt around the gruesome details of murder.

I put aside the thought until shortly thereafter, while rototilling my garden, I unearthed a green marble, a cat’s eye. I held it in my hand and wondered about the little boy or girl who lost it. I imagined how neat it would be to be able to hold the marble tight in my hand and have it whisk me back in time to the boy’s life. I’d be able to see what he saw, walk beside him, and maybe witness some horrible crime. And what if the villain was still alive today? What if he was my next-door neighbor?

That was all it took to dislodge me from the LeGarde Mysteries for a few months. With my wife’s urging, I gave into the desire to create a new world. I didn’t expect it to turn into another series. But it did.

FOR KEEPS is book 3 in the green marble series, otherwise known as Moore Mysteries. And yes, I blame my wife for the whole thing.

Q. Why did you decide to become a writer?

A. It wasn’t until eight members of my family and friends died within five years that the urge to write became overwhelming. When my father died, I lost it. I needed an outlet, and writing provided the kind of solace I couldn’t find elsewhere.

I created the LeGarde Mystery series (the first of my three mystery series) with the founding novel, DOUBLE FORTÉ (2004), a chilling winter mystery set in the Genesee Valley of upstate New York. Like my father, protagonist Gus LeGarde is a classical music professor. Gus, a grandfather, gardener, chef, and nature lover, plays Chopin etudes to feed his soul and thinks of himself as a “Renaissance man caught in the 21st century.”

The creation of the series lent me the comfort I sought, yet in the process, a new passion was unleashed. Now I’m obsessed with this parallel universe. I live, breathe, and dream about my characters, and have written ten LeGarde mysteries in eight years. (UPSTAGED – 2005; TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON – 2007 Twilight Times Books; MAZURKA – 2009 Twilight Times Books, FIRESONG – 2011, DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU – 2012; with more to come.)

That was just the beginning. I now have two additional mystery series: Moore Mysteries and Tall Pines Mysteries. So far, sixteen books in all!

Q. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

A. I adore spending time with my family – wife, daughters, and grandkids. You can usually find me outside, either in my gardens or on hikes in the beautiful Genesee Valley. I love photography and cooking, as well.

Q. What is your philosophy to writing?

A. One of my favorite sayings that I use when I sign off from my articles or blogs is “remember to take pleasure in the little things, and if you love to write, write like the wind!”

I guess it’s a strange concept, but I have this vision of unleashing swirling gusts of words just like the wind that rattles leaves in trees and blows hats along the sidewalk. Don’t stop to analyze, don’t hesitate, don’t edit yourself to death. There’s plenty of time for that later. Just let it all out in one big gushing explosion of words, and keep going until you reach the last chapter. The editing comes later. ;o)

Q. What is some advice you’d like to share with new writers?

A. I’m going to give you the essence of one of my chapters in WRITE LIKE THE WIND, a new writing advice guide I’ve just released through Twilight Times Books. I spent years learning all this stuff, and am very happy to share it:

I collect little buds of knowledge through my association with other writers, continued voracious reading, and through the process of relentless writing.    

Following are ten suggestions that can help a young writer tone up his or her skills.   

1) Just write. To start, write for a few minutes every day. If your passion is like mine, you’ll find you can’t stop. You’ll make it happen. I schedule very early mornings for writing, from 4:00 to 6:00 AM. It’s the only quiet time in my hectic life and I couldn’t accept spending less time with my wife, daughters, or grandsons. So, I go to bed early and forget about TV. What’s more important? In doing so, I’ve produced sixteen novels in a bit over ten years. See? It works!

2) Cut out the flowery stuff. I adore adjectives and adverbs, and I ache to describe scenes in lush detail. But in the end, I have to hack away all the excess. If you read a line out loud and it feels stilted—stop! Take out all the extra words that slow you down, and just tell the story. Use descriptive words sparingly. I’ve found that over time, my style has become simpler and more streamlined. I’m going back now and red-lining much of the early work before it reaches the bookstores. It hurts like hell to do it, but it’s absolutely necessary. 

3) Observe, observe, observe! Soak in every tiny detail that surrounds you. Colors, textures, sensations, expressions, birdsongs, sunlight, and the ground you walk on... notice everything, and brand it into your brain for that next chapter you’re going to write.  

4) Listen to the voices. Listen to the grocery clerk, the bank teller, children at play, at the airport, professors, grandparents, and neighbors... listen! You’ll never create natural dialogue without listening closely. 

5) Tap into your emotions. When someone close to you dies, it’s an overwhelming, dreadful experience. But, the same emotions that flatten you at that time will be indispensable when you write about loss. Recreating the deep-seated feelings will make your book come alive and ring true with readers. 

6) Make your characters feel deeply and give them a rich history. This takes time and is particularly important if you’re writing a series. If readers don’t care about the characters, they won’t come back for more. Don’t worry about defining them in detail in the beginning—just start writing and they will develop. You can always go back and add more detail that supports your character’s growth. 

7) Perfection comes later. When you first start writing, don’t let yourself become paralyzed by self-editing. Just let the story out. This is what I mean by “write like the wind.” The creative process can be stifled by too much early analysis. There’s plenty of time for that later. When you’re ready to go back to it for editing, hack away at the unnecessary prepositional phrases and the ungainly adverbs, extract those awkward scenes that stand out like sore thumbs, and supplement those that seem abrupt. Then, set it aside for a while.

After I’ve completed a novel with at least one round of edits, I put it down and start on the next book. Many months later, I’ll come back to it. It’s best if I don’t remember much (I’m often surprised at how much I’ve forgotten) as that’s when one is in the best position to challenge one’s own work. Sometimes I’ll be surprised at an unusually eloquent passage, or humiliated by a flimsy section through which I obviously rushed. That’s the time to roll up your sleeves and be ruthless. Cut out the excess and fortify the weak! 

8) Find a skillful editor and beta readers. I’ve been lucky. I have writer/reader friends with eagle eyes who will scour my manuscripts and be brutal where necessary. Try to find one person who is willing to follow along with the book as you create it. That’s the best way to start. Share this service. Swap chapters as soon as they’re done. That’s what I do with one of my writer friends who’s a talented writer and a superb editor. She catches things I’d never notice, and I try to do the same for her. We aren’t shy about helping—if a passage sounds stilted, she tells me immediately. If I want to “see” more of the details in a scene, I ask her to elaborate. It works well. Then, when the book is in a reasonable shape, I ask my beta readers to take a look at it, focusing on typos and possible inconsistencies. The finished manuscripts read more smoothly and are of higher quality, and are finally ready for my publisher’s editor to go through. It takes many iterations to flush out all (or most!) of the typos, extra spaces, missing quotation marks, etc. I’m astounded at how well my author’s brain “sees” what I “meant” to type. It takes a legion of other willing volunteers to catch everything. Caution – don’t ever think you’re “done” until your publisher forbids you to tweak it anymore.

9) Maintain the tension. You want your readers to need to read more. Keep up the pace. Make it flow seamlessly from chapter to chapter. And try to avoid unnecessary excursions into boring territory. I like to use plenty of dialogue; it moves the book along quickly. Short chapters also help the reader feel as if he’s made progress. Readers say that with short chapters they’re more apt to think, “Just one more chapter before I go to bed.” Of course, if the tension and suspense are stimulating, your poor readers will stay up way past bedtime.

10) Polish it ’til it shines. When the story’s complete and you’re ready to submit it, don’t send in anything but your very best work, buffed to perfection. You may have to go through it dozens of times, but it’s worth it. Have your friends and family do the same. Each time they scour your manuscript, they’ll find something new. It seems endless. But if you keep at it, you will produce a superior product suitable for submission or publication.

Q. What is your favorite book?

A. To Kill a Mockingbird

Q. Favorite movie?

A. I can’t pick one! Can I cheat and give you my list of favorites? Murdoch Mysteries, Midsomer Murders, To Kill a Mockingbird, Shining Through, Regarding Henry, Sense and Sensibility, Forever Young, The Game, Big, The English Patient, Frequency, Corrina, Corrina, The Family Man, Dragonfly, While You Were Sleeping, The Green Mile, Witness, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Majestic, Nell, As Good As It Gets, The Birdcage, Don Juan de Marco, The Station Agent, The Human Stain, Remains of the Day, Pride & Prejudice, Under the Tuscan Sun, The American President, Fried Green Tomatoes, Bridges of Madison County, Sound of Music, The Secret Life of Bees

Q. Favorite band?

A. I have always loved the bands of my youth – The Beatles, Stones, Led Zep, Jeff Beck and others of that era. But I also love Ella Fitzgerald, Chopin, and Puccini. ;o)

Q. Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

A.  Yes! My publisher is in the process of releasing a three volume set of writing guides based on my seven years of blogging about writing. The series is called WRITE LIKE THE WIND and is available in eBook format on Kindle.

Thanks so much for having me today, it’s been an honor!

If anyone would like to ask questions about the books, feel free to email me at aaron dot lazar at yahoo dot com.

You can also find my complete list of books, websites, awards, etc, here:

Twilight Times Books by Kindle bestselling author, Aaron Lazar:

DOUBLE FORTÉ (2012, author’s preferred edition)  
UPSTAGED (coming 2012 author’s preferred edition, eBook and print)  

FOR KEEPS (JULY 2012, AUDIO BOOK coming 2012)

FOR THE BIRDS (2011, AUDIO BOOK, coming 2012)
SANCTUARY (coming, 2013)


WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volumes 1, 2, 3 (AUG 2012)

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (2012), WRITE LIKE THE WIND (2012), the author’s preferred edition of UPSTAGED (2012) and SANCTUARY (2013).

WINNER 2011 EPIC Book Awards, BEST Paranormal * FINALIST 2011 FOREWORD BOOK AWARDS * WINNER 2011 Eric Hoffer BEST Book, COMMERCIAL FICTION * 2X FINALIST Global eBook Awards 2011 * Preditors & Editors Readers Choice Award – 2nd place 2011* Winner of Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s 9th Annual Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize for Literature 2011 * Finalist Allbooks Editor’s Choice Awards 2011 * Preditors&Editors Top 10 Finalist  * Yolanda Renée's Top Ten Books 2008  * MYSHELF Top Ten Reads 2008  * Writer’s Digest Top 101 Website Award 2009-2012

 Now to whet your appetite for Aaron's novel, I present you the first two chapters (and I apologize for the inconsistencies in paragraphing - this did not copy/paste very well from Word). Enjoy!

Chapter One
 “Murdered?” Sam juggled four pots of yellow daylilies in his arms, squeezing the cell phone between his shoulder and ear. “Where? And why in world do you need me?”
Lou sighed. “I told you. The Twin Sisters Inn. And I can’t say over the phone, I just need your…expertise.”
My expertise? Sam had practiced family medicine in East Goodland, New York for over thirty years, but couldn’t imagine how treating runny noses and chicken pox qualified him to help with a murder. And why was Lou being so damned secretive about the whole thing?
“Hold on a sec, Lou.” He dropped the flowerpots on the counter and barely caught them before they toppled. Flashing the clerk an apologetic smile, he swept the spilled dirt into a pile and mumbled into the phone. “I’m at Palmiter’s. Just checking out.”
Lou groaned. “Why am I not surprised? Since you retired, that’s all you’ve done. Flowers and more flowers. Holy Mother Mary. Don’t you get sick of it? Or are you trying to get your place on the Home and Garden network?”
Sam slid the plants toward the clerk. “You’re just jealous.”
“Damn right I am. I can’t retire for another coupla years. Remember, I was two years behind you in med school.”
“Just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I’ve lost my marbles. Of course I remember.” Sam thought back to the coroner when she was a student at the University of Rochester. Short strawberry blond hair, willowy figure, high cheekbones, and a ready smile. Aside from her gray hair, Louise Reardon hadn’t changed much after forty years and five kids. Except she was a hell of a lot pushier.
The freckled teen behind the counter looked bored. “That’ll be fourteen ninety-two.”
Sam dug out fifteen bucks and paid her. “Thanks. Keep the change.”
She raised her eyebrows as if she couldn’t believe he’d actually try to tip her with eight lousy cents. “Gee. Thanks, mister.”
He shrugged, loaded his plants into a green wagon, and pulled it toward the Highlander. He’d bought enough plants here to put all their kids through college. Anyway, who tipped sales clerks? “Lou? You still there? I’m almost at the car.”
“I’m here.” She let loose another frustrated sigh. “How long ‘til you get here?”
Sam loaded his plants in the back, got in, and turned the key. The SUV purred to life. “Not long. I’m putting you on speaker. Just a sec.” He slid the phone into his breast pocket and backed out of the parking spot. None of those new-fangled blue tooth gadgets for him. It was hard enough to keep up with cell phones, laptops, iPods, and every new device that came out each year. “On my way.”
“Geez. Finally. Watch out for the news vultures when you get here, though. They’re everywhere.”
“Will do. Be there in a few.”
He hung up and pushed his silver forelock back from his forehead. Shouldering his way through a pack of hungry journalists to view a dead body had not been in today’s plans. Today was supposed to be devoted to gardening, to feeding his insatiable need to dig in rich loam while the sun warmed his back. If Lou weren’t such a good friend, he’d have blown her off.
Turning south on Route 39, he imagined the ribbing he’d get if she knew about his aversion to cadavers. A doctor? Afraid of bodies?
He’d dealt with dead people before, but not a great deal. Med school, of course. He’d barfed his way through that ordeal. And when Mrs. Tupple had died in her bed ten years ago, he’d gone to the house at Mr. Tupple’s request. Reluctantly. But he’d gone. The most recent experience had been last fall, at his brother’s funeral.
Well, it hadn’t really been a body…it was Billy’s bones, bones pinned underwater for fifty years. Submerged with heavy stones deposited by Sam’s three best friends. Billy’s disappearance had remained a mystery, until it was finally revealed last year. When things happened. Things he couldn’t explain to anyone, except Rachel. He couldn’t even tell her the whole story. But Billy connecting with him from beyond and helped him get to the truth.
A familiar sadness took hold, and as if in response, Billy’s green marble hummed and warmed in his pocket. His brother’s face floated across his mind’s eye. Freckles. Clear hazel eyes. Sandy hair. Impish smile.
Billy wanted to talk.
Not now. I can’t. Later, buddy. He thought the words in his head, knowing Billy could hear him if he said them out loud or imagined them.
Sam turned left at the Mobil Station on the corner of Main Street and Route 20A and headed for the historic brick building housing The Twin Sisters Inn. Willing the marble to be quiet, he forced himself to think of what lay ahead.
A murder victim? Why the heck did Lou need his help? It didn’t make any sense, but in spite of his reservations, a trickle of excitement ran down his spine.
News vans and squad cars jammed the lot. He parked on the side of the road and headed toward the building. The marble pulsed twice, then grew cold.
Was it a warning?
The green glass talisman had linked Sam to Billy since he unearthed it in his garden last year. He’d learned to respect it, and through it, Billy’s interventions had helped with a number of sticky situations. He’d saved the life of his friend, Senator Bruce McDonald, after the sudden collapse of Healey’s Cave. And more important, he’d found his daughter, Beth, after she’d been kidnapped.
He locked his car and headed toward the building, skirting around vehicles and people. He brushed against the back of a policeman when several news reporters pushed past him. The officer swung his head around and stared.
“Er. Sorry.” He smiled at the patrolman and kept going.
If they had any idea. If they knew I talked to Billy, traveled back in time with him… A lace dragged from his shoe, threatening to trip him. He stopped to tie it. If they knew, they’d put me back in the asylum, just like they did when I was twelve.
A chill stole over him. Memories of the day Billy disappeared assaulted him. Billy, on his brand new bicycle, driving down the road, never to return. Guilt coiled in his stomach. He’d answered a phone call from a damned girl, instead of following his brother on the bike ride like he’d promised. He’d never forgive himself for that.
That moment had been the end of life as he knew it, and the beginning of his tortured life to come. The insane asylum had been the worst, though. He hated to remember the way they talked to him, the stupid pills they’d made him take that doped him up, and the disgusting smell of antiseptic that had followed him everywhere, even seeped onto his pillowcase at night. He shuddered and tried to put it out of his mind. Best to forget it and see what the hell Lou wanted.

Chapter Two

Lou hailed him from the front steps. “Over here, Doctor Moore.”
She said it loud enough to discourage the eager journalists who craned their heads to see if he was anyone they cared about. When they realized he wasn’t a detective, they lost interest and swarmed toward the police chief’s car that just pulled in behind Sam’s SUV.
Lou took his arm and steered him inside. The inn boasted antiques and wide plank floorboards. Inside the door, a pine bench with a stenciled backboard lined the wall; an old-fashioned pie cabinet anchored the opposite wall beside a mahogany sideboard, on which an essential oils diffuser sat, filling the air with the scent of balsam. Sam breathed it in, relieved it wasn’t one of those chemical smelling, fake candles. It bolstered his spirits and reminded him of the deep woods in the Adirondacks. He was damned sure it smelled a hell of a lot better than what he’d find upstairs in the crime scene.
Mary and Alice Peterson, the inn owners and former patients of his, had been encouraging him to investigate the oils for years, and he’d meant to, but had been too swamped with patients to check them out. He’d always regretted that, and had resolved to do some research in his retirement that might help merge traditional approaches with those steeped in Eastern medicine. Time would tell if he could fit it in between the gardening, babysitting, and spending time with Rachel. She needed more care now that her MS had worsened, but he was up to the challenge. It was one of the reasons he’d retired a little early.
 He shuffled after Lou. Tin chandeliers hung over a long trestle table, decorated with dried crabapples and fresh flowers. The twins reportedly served scrumptious breakfasts to guests at that table, and he’d been invited more than a few times to partake of their homemade breads, jams, and other goodies. Again, he’d had to decline his patients’ generous invitations. There just hadn’t been enough hours in the day to socialize and run his practice. But now that he was retired, he wanted to find time for more of that kind of thing.
A policeman sat in the corner, interviewing the hotel owners. Alice’s hands shook when she took a pen from the officer to sign a statement, and her complexion seemed unusually pale. Sam wondered if her blood sugar was low. She’d been his patient forever. He started toward her with concern, but Lou grabbed his sleeve.
“Come on, it’s this way.”
“But Alice—”
“For crying out loud, you’re retired now. She’s not your patient anymore, Sam. It’s not your job. Come on.”
Sam dug in his heels. He shook his arm loose and spun around. “Alice. Are you feeling okay?”
Alice’s face lit up. “Oh, Doc! I’m so glad you’re here. It’s awful. Just awful. A woman was killed in the Maple Nut room!”
Mary put an arm around her sister’s shoulders. “She’s shook up, Doc.”
Sam felt her pulse. “I think she’s more than shook up. Let’s get her some orange juice. She needs something to get her sugar back up.”
“I’m fine, Doc. Just a little light-headed.”
When Mary brought the juice, he sat while she drank it, sputtering the whole time about not needing such a fuss made over her. He waited another ten minutes, making small talk, while Lou fumed. When he was sure she seemed stable, he turned to Lou. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Lou blew up a lock of her gray bangs and made a face. “Geez, Sam. You’ll never be able to leave it alone, will you?”
“It’s not like I died when I retired. Alice has been my patient since I started my practice. I couldn’t just walk past her, for God’s sake. I’m not a monster.” He followed Lou up the stairs to the second floor, ticked off now. Did being a coroner make you callous toward the living? He shook his head, mulling it over while they threaded around police, through a carpeted hallway, and into a room already marked with yellow tape. The room crawled with technicians.
Lou spoke through tight lips. “Just be careful not to touch anything.”
Sam nodded and followed her across the suite, around a coffee table, past a fireplace, and into a bedroom.
“She’s in the bathroom,” Lou said. “You’ll have to stand in the doorway to see. They’re still taking photos of the blood spatter.”
Blood spatter.
Sam’s insides churned. There was a reason he didn’t become an emergency room doctor. And blood spatter had a lot to do with it. He took a deep breath and forced himself to focus.
Inside the black and pink bathroom, a woman lay on her side, facing away. A three-foot long gray braid curled behind her on the floor, fastened at the top and bottom with elastic bands and fake daisies. She had been slim, and wore a silky Japanese dressing gown, covered with pink and black dragons that matched the floor tiles. Three technicians crowded around the body. Camera flashes blinded Sam as he tried to absorb the scene.
Lou whispered in his ear. “She was hit from behind with that phone.”
An old-fashioned beige rotary phone perched on the edge of the tub. Red smudges stained its edges. Blood soiled the back of the woman’s head and neck and splashed about the room on the walls and floor. A particularly large spot smeared the pink shower curtain. He felt sick and hoped he wouldn’t lose it in front of all these professionals.
Lou leaned on his shoulder to look past him at the body. “Looks like it happened last night, sometime between midnight and four. We think she let him in, recognized him, since there was no sign of forced entry. The sisters didn’t see anything. Lights are out at ten, but guests are free to admit family or friends whenever they like.”
One well-toned leg extended back from her body, with toes pointed toward the sink. An anklet glistened in the light of the camera flashes. Four silver stars marched around her slim ankle, separated by black pearls.
A technician lifted the hem of the dead woman’s gown to reveal a vivid pentagram tattoo, circled with black roses. The photographer shot it from all angles.
Sam caught a glimpse of painted pink toenails. One hand, nails unpolished, rested on the cold tile, as if the victim was ready to push herself into a sitting position. A bottle of nail polish had spilled on the floor by the tub.
“She never saw it coming,” Lou said. The skinny, bald technician looked up and nodded as if he agreed, then went back to work dusting the edges of the phone and tub.
“Maybe we should let these gentlemen finish their jobs,” Sam said. He backed up into the bedroom. “And I still don’t get—”
Lou shushed him with steely eyes. “Wait. Just wait a minute, for God’s sake.”
She’d been testy with him since she called, and he was starting to get sick of it. He’d come here to help her. He’d much rather be in his garden, or better yet, having lunch with Rachel.
            In ten minutes, the room cleared. One of the techs nodded to Lou on the way out. “She’s all yours, Doc. Let us know if you need anything.”
            “Thanks.” Lou shot him a grim smile and motioned for Sam to follow her to the nightstand.
            “Look at this.” She flipped through the white pages using the eraser end of a yellow pencil. “There. There it is. The book was opened to this page when they found her.”
            Sam stared at the circled entry. “Are you sure she did this?”
            Lou shook her head. “No. But it’s pretty damned likely.”
            The name and address circled shouted at him. Dr. Samuel J. and Rachel S. Moore. 5125 Maple Beach Road. East Goodland, New York.
            Sam stared at the phone book, then glanced around the room. It was tidy, as if the occupant had just arrived. The suitcase lay unpacked and opened on a stand near the television. “Am I a suspect?”
            “Hell, no. I just want to see if you knew her. I didn’t exactly broadcast the information to the police.” She gestured to the phone book. “I wanted to show you first. I’m not sure if they picked up on it.”
            “Thanks, Lou.” The last thing he needed was to be part of a murder investigation. He thought back to last night. He didn’t even have a good alibi—Rachel had fallen asleep early, and he’d read until he’d drifted off.
He leaned over and looked at the books on the nightstand. Standard fare. The newest Dean Koontz novel and a women’s magazine.
            “According to the detective, the ID she gave at the front desk comes up bogus in the system, and her purse is missing. If she carried one, that is. No wallet, no identifying papers.” Lou’s voice softened. “You ready to see if you recognize her?”
            Sam squared his shoulders and nodded, feeling less confident than he sounded. “Sure. But what makes you think I’ll know her? Maybe she was just looking for a local doctor.”
            They walked toward the bathroom. “Maybe.” Lou led the way. She crouched beside the victim and carefully rolled her onto her back. “But take a look anyway.”

If you like what you've read make sure to visit Amazon for your free copy!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

August Wrap-Up

I know I'm about a week late, but here's my August wrap-up. I read a total of five books, one of those being a short story and another being a collection of short stories. As of the end of August I was a third of the way through another book. This was my first experience with ARCs and self-published works, which took me away from my goal of reading more YA books to give me a better repertoire as an English teacher. Also, as always, GRRM dominated this month. On top of the five books I read, I wrote six book reviews.

I'll start out with the books I read and reviewed this month (you can reach the reviews by clicking on the titles):

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Chilling as it is, I really enjoyed William Golding's symbolic novel. The adventure helps make the themes feel less heavy-handed, and Golding has some very important things to say about society and about humanity.

The Angels' Share, by Rayme Waters

While I found The Angels' Share to have beautiful prose, the story fell short. I think it didn't help that Waters decided to tell both the story of the adult Cinnamon and the child Cinnamon. It caused the story to have a lack of focus, and the characters weren't particularly well-developed anyway. To top it off, an adolescent-type romance just didn't seem to fit in what I thought was supposed to be an adult drama.

The Archaeologists, by Christopher Lee

I like Lee's experiment with style, a mix of short story and drama, but the content doesn't do it justice. There's some bizarre sexual content, and perhaps a bit too much profanity. Along with that the story and characters could have been fleshed out a little better. It leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth. Nonetheless, it ends just as its getting interesting, but that's probably Lee's strategy to get his readers to read more.

Anthology 1: The Other Side, by Hamidah Gul

I got a good dose of self-publishing this month, and Gul's short story collection taught me a lot. Gul's website proclaims she's from Singapore, and it's clear from the prose that English is her second language. Even so, I think I could have enjoyed the stories if they were interesting stories, because the bad English probably would have added charm to them. The problem, with one exception, is that they are not interesting stories. A few make little sense, others are boring, and even those that show promise fail to deliver. Though that doesn't mean Gul doesn't have it in her to write something enjoyable.

A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin

With an exception of May, I read one GRRM book a month this summer, and that really ate into my book total. Still, A Storm of Swords was very much worth the two weeks it took to read it. Though I think A Game of Thrones is brilliant, this one is perhaps the best, but definitely better than A Clash of Kings. Now that school's started up, I probably won't read another Martin until December, perhaps not until next May. We'll see.

Here's what I wrote a review for, but read in July:

A Wrinkle In Time, but Madeleine L'Engle

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. What you do is answer the following three questions:

 What are you currently reading?

I've been reading For Keeps, by Aaron Paul Lazar, in preparation for my first ever book blog tour coming up the weekend of September 14. It's a mystery with a slight paranormal twist, and so far an enjoyable one. I'll just say that Lazar is a very good writer and a nice guy as well. You'll have to wait a week and a half to learn more.

What did you recently finish reading?

I finished Steven Lee Gilbert's A Lovely, Indecent Departure, and I've got to say that while I was on the fence for the first 70 pages or so, because there were some very good scenes early on, the book just didn't work for me in the end. I think the main problem is that the reader never finds out what motivates these characters to behave the way they do, and so they end up feeling lifeless and flat. Here's my review.

What do you think you'll read next?

A fellow blogger, Lianne, has invited me to join a Goodreads group where you read all of the books on the Goodreads compatibility test. This month is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I listened to it on disc a year or so ago, but I liked it so much I'll look for a copy to re-read it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Lovely, Indecent Departure, by Steven Lee Gilbert (2012)

Steven Lee Gilbert writes with conviction and purpose in his debut novel, A Lovely, Indecent Departure, but he has everything all wrong. The novel plods along slowly and tediously, and Gilbert's decision not to let the reader into the minds of his characters makes the story lifeless as well. Because the reader doesn't know what's going on inside their heads, the characters are more like empty vessels than human beings, awaiting direction from the author. When Gilbert makes them do something shocking, I don't feel he's earned it, because the plot leading up to that moment gives no indication the character was capable of such action. The novel wants to be morally ambiguous as well, but even here it fails. In order to achieve this goal would have required greater insight into the situation and into the motivations of its characters. Failing to provide such information, the novel ends up being morally disturbing instead.

The plot seems intriguing at first. Anna, a divorced mother, decides to abduct her son, Oliver, who was given custody to his father, Evan. Anna gets to see Oliver on weekends, but Evan does everything he can to ensure she seems him for as little time as possible. On this particularly weekend, Evan demands that Anna bring Oliver back four hours earlier than she has him for, but Anna has other plans.

From some early scenes we see that Evan can be a jerk, especially towards Anna. However, there is no indication that he is a bad father. He is strict, sure, but strictness is not bad parenting - quite the opposite, in fact. I only point this out because it helps to determine why Anna makes the decision to abduct her son. If Gilbert is able to establish that the court's decision to leave Oliver in his father's custody is a bad one, because Evan abuses his son, for example, then I could possibly sympathize with Anna. Otherwise, if Evan is nothing more than a jerk, Anna's decision suggests a mental illness, perhaps even idiocy. In fact, there's no indication she has thought through her plans very far, though she has help from her family in Italy. That she tries to live a normal life in Italy under her Italian family's surname (not even changing her first name) suggests she wants to be caught. She's too obvious. To add to that, we find that Oliver is clearly not happy, though Gilbert avoids suggesting that it is because he is not with his father, and the principal of his school takes notice. I don't have any sympathy for a woman who would do this to her child.

However, it's clear that we're supposed to cheer for Anna and view Evan as the bad guy. The problem is, Gilbert fails to provide any proof that Evan is a bad guy until some plot developments towards the end that are not earned. That the sheriff and a private investigator suspect Evan is to blame for his wife's actions makes the reader more sympathetic to him. These characters seem convinced that Evan is a monster, but nothing convincing suggests that he is. The mistake Gilbert makes is in not revealing anything monstrous Evan has done during his marriage to Anna. The fact that the court awards him custody suggests he is more capable of raising his son than she is.

In an article on his blog, Gilbert asserts that what happens prior to the divorce is irrelevant. This is wrong. In order to sympathize with Anna, the reader needs to know why we should believe Evan is a monster. Simply stating that he is a monster is not enough. We need reasons. Without key background information, the novel exists in a void, as though the characters began their life only at the start of the novel, and not before. When Evan makes some drastic decisions at the end, there is nothing to suggest he was moving in that direction. The author told him to act and he did. He did not act on his own. In this case, I guess it really doesn't matter what happened before the divorce. The actions of the characters are predetermined and require no development up to that moment. It's as though we're reading a story about robots and not people with feelings, opinions, and life.

Gilbert borrows his writing style heavily from Cormac McCarthy. This is true in the sentence structure, but he lacks the poetry of McCarthy's language. Gilbert's sentences don't flow with the same life as McCarthy's. Where McCarthy can describe a character drinking a cold beer in such a way that the reader can taste the beer, Gilbert comes off as repetitive and long-winded, particularly with his use of the word "and" to connect several mundane actions. More obviously borrowed is the dialogue, written without quotation marks. However, the dialogue has the same problems as the rest of the writing.

Gilbert overuses some elements of dialogue that can be effective in small doses. For one, there are far too many occasions when one character does not respond to another. Here is a common sentence in the novel: "Evan didn't answer." This kind of non-response is supposed to suggest something has been said that Evan does not like, or that he has something to hide. However, it seems more likely that the characters have nothing going on in their heads. This is clear in some of the dialogue. Too often a character asks for clarification about the reference of a pronoun that is painfully obvious. Here's an example of what I mean:

"Long enough that she wouldn't call to tell me where she stole off with her son.
Did you know the boy?
What boy?
Her son."

That the boy in this dialogue exchange refers to her son is so obvious there's no need to clarify. It's an insult to the reader's intelligence, and it also makes the characters seem dimwitted. This kind of exchange is common throughout the book, and it nearly had me pulling out my hair. I also don't understand the need for lengthy dialogue exchanges in Italian. I mean, I get it. Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway have characters who speak Spanish here and there, but it's usually just a brief sentence and it's generally translated by the narrator. There are frustrating moments where two or more characters carry on a somewhat lengthy conversation entirely in Italian. If what these characters have to say is not important enough to write in English, it should have been scrapped.

I haven't even mentioned the third POV character, after Anna and Evan, and that is Sheriff Monroe. Monroe is not essential to the story. He does not help solve the case, and when he does any investigating, he comes up empty-handed. Monroe's scenes add nothing of interest. I did not care about his romance with the local librarian, or the vague criticisms of his police department, or his troubles with his ailing father, or his scenes with his teenage daughter. Gilbert could have profited immensely from removing Monroe from the story and instead focusing on developing Anna and Evan and their situation so the reader could actually care about the outcome of the story.