Title: Tailwind: Days of Cottonmouths and Cotton Candy
Author: Lad Moore
Publisher: BeWrite Books
Publisher's Address: 363 Badminton Road, Nibley, Bristol,BS37 5JF
ISBN number: 1-904492-02-9
Publisher phone number and/or website address: www.bewrite.net
Tailwind: Days of Cottonmouths and Cotton Candy
By Lad Moore
Review by Aaron Paul Lazar
Author of the LeGarde Mystery Series
Tailwind shines with vignettes that drip like pearls of dew, one at a time, to be savored as cool water on a parched tongue. Each story, replete with humor and pathos, transports the reader to the world of rural East Texas in the mid-twentieth century. Mr. Moore’s boyhood was filled with toy soldiers, hot tar on bare feet, fireflies, and shenanigans born of times less electronic, less structured, and certainly less affluent than today.
Imagine sitting around a campfire with a storyteller whose history blazes with events so exotic, so traumatic, and yet so rich that they captivate you with greater intensity than the biggest Hollywood blockbuster. Now, envision the author speaking in a comfortable voice, resonant with humility and humor. This is Lad Moore. This is a writer for all mankind, a universal genius.
Mr. Moore writes with a folksy elegance that is unparalleled in this age. Reminiscent of the great American masters, Tailwind should and will be included as a fundamental part of America’s heritage. The ultimate revelation comes when readers discover that Mr. Moore’s tales are true – stemming from a tumultuous and difficult childhood in which he was abandoned by his mother at six months, barely raised by a glamorous, oft-absent father, and shipped off to military school at the age of eight. Betrayed by his father’s second wife, who stole the family fortune, Mr. Moore suffered poverty with his beloved grandmother, but thankfully was taught of deeper riches via her warm affection and exemplary morality.
Tailwind becomes an extension of one’s being. This reader allowed himself a story every few days – stretching the experience as long as possible, relishing each chapter with nostalgic reverence.
Take for example, the following vignettes:
In “Bologna Sandwich Ceasefires,” young Lad entertains himself with sweetgum armies, creating legions of soldiers from twigs, spent bullet casings, and acorn hulls. Using rubber band missiles, he demolishes entire battalions in an afternoon.
“Cannon fire – sweetgum burs collected in a Mrs. Tucker’s lard can – rained down on the standing forces from the hill above them. Shots fell equally, alternating between the armies, with full sound effects coughed out from deep in my throat. After the barrage, casualty count determined the winner and loser. Soldiers that lost their upright stance from the bombardment must be broken in half – not to be recycled. A mass grave awaited them in the storm sewer.”
In “Nitelites,” young Lad imagines he is a railway signalman, waving firefly “lanterns” in the air as trains rush past in the dark night. He confesses of “smudge pot rolling,” as well.
“…rolling smudge pots was worth it. I could suffer a little tennis-shoe cleanup to see the trail of flaming oil spilling out as the pot rolled down the street. On a good hill, and a skillful roll, I could leave a fireline from Hendry’s store all the way to the underpass. Sometimes a few magnolia leaves would catch fire and add to the excitement.”
In “Solomon of Hardesty Farm,” Mr. Moore describes the enduring friendship of young Lad and an elderly black farmhand in times when racial bigotry was common.
“Old Solomon towered over me like a big tree with his little spectacles hanging from his nose like a pine cone, ready to break free and fall….Like a detour barricade, Solomon stood between the grape rows with his hoe, its handle worn slick and stained by the sweat from his hands. He moved in reverse like the fiddler crab zigging in the aisles of dirt.”
In “New Cars of Short Duration,” Mr. Moore describes the pain of having a callous older brother who wrecked their deceased father’s 1956 Buick almost as soon as he claimed it. Describing the incident, Mr. Moore writes, “It had that strange smell of broken windshield glass – an almost sweet odor – like nutmeg and hot plastic.” When young Lad harbored hopes of owning a car for himself, they were dashed. “My dreams collapsed like a severed elevator.”
Tailwind sings with poetic images of life in small-town America. When one turns the last page, a sense of sorrow descends, akin to bidding farewell to a dear friend. Consolation comes only in the knowledge that Mr. Moore’s second book, Odie Dodie, The Life and Crimes of a Travelin’ Preacher Man, is now available for purchase.
Lad Moore may be contacted at: email@example.com. Please place “Tailwind” in the Subject line.
Aaron Paul Lazar resides in Upstate New York with his wife, three daughters, two grandsons, mother-in-law, dog, and four cats. After writing in the early morning hours, he works as an electrophotographic engineer at Kodak, in Rochester, New York. Additional passions include vegetable, fruit, and flower gardening; preparing large family feasts; photographing his family, gardens, and the breathtakingly beautiful Genesee Valley; cross-country skiing across the rolling hills; playing a distinctly amateur level of piano, and spending “time” with the French Impressionists whenever possible. Although he adored raising his three delightful daughters, Mr. Lazar finds grandfathering his “two little buddies” to be one of the finest experiences of his life.
Double Forté is the founding book of the LeGarde Mystery series and was released in January, 2005. Upstaged, the second, was released in October, 2005. His third, Tremelo: Cry of the Loon, will be released via Twilight Times Books under the Paladin Timeless Imprint in fall, 2006. Mr. Lazar is currently working on his tenth book, One Potato, Blue Potato. He is a regular columnist for FMAM (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine) and The Back Room, A Cozy Retreat for Writers and Readers. Contact him at: http://us.f387.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=Aaron.Lazar@yahoo.com or via his website at http://www.legardemysteries.com/
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Friday, June 16, 2006
By Aaron Paul Lazar
By Aaron Paul Lazar
The past nine days have propelled me from dizzying heights of joy to the depths of despair. I survived, and thankfully so did my grandson.
A rare new form of strep bacteria invaded Gordie’s baby lungs, aggravating his asthma. He wheezed, coughed, and struggled to breathe. I know what that feels like because I have asthma, too. Unfortunately, I passed on the genes that cause it and am still struggling with the associated guilt.
Gordon is a two-year-old with a sturdy build and curly copper hair. But when he lay inside the oxygen tent in his voluminous hospital gown, he looked frail. Tiny. The moisture coated the inside of the clear plastic walls of his tent and turned his hair into damp ringlets. I couldn’t look at the IV. The bloody spot beneath the layers of gauze made my stomach lurch, and the board they attached to it to keep him from bending his elbow made it worse.
For three days he stayed in the hospital with his parents in attendance, enduring six daily nebulizer treatments, slugs of massive antibiotics through IV, and the dreaded prednisone. Improvement was slow. Finally, after three long days, he came home.
Though still wheezing, Gordie ran from person to person and toy to toy – picking them up and playing as if he’d been away for a year. He jumped onto his tall fuzzy horse and cantered side by side with his three-year-old brother, Julian. He found his beloved turtle, and searched for his dinosaur – the one that looks like George’s dinosaur on “Peppa Pig,” his favorite cartoon. He also picked up a few bad habits - understandably so. When things didn’t go his way, he screamed, “I don wannit!” I chilled to think of the times he must’ve said that to the nurses or doctors who hurt him while working so hard to keep his airways open. The only saving grace is he probably won’t remember the experience. He’s still laboring to breathe, but he’s home now.
This morning I choked up when he woke before the rest of the household and found his way up to my bed. I rubbed his peaches ‘n cream skin with the back of my hand and snuggled with him under the covers, thanking God for his recovery.
While Gordie was in the hospital, I stayed home from work to care for Julian. We visited Gordon and stayed in close touch; thankful he was in good hands. For the next four days, we spent time side by side. My grandsons and I were always very close, even though they’re only two and three years old. But this experience cemented our bond even tighter. Though we worried daily about Gordon throughout this ordeal, we also rejoiced in the gift of time together. My gardening buddy and I spent hours outdoors each day, from early morning until suppertime and sometimes beyond. We planted a forty-foot triple row of onions and mulched beds with oat straw, watching bumblebees buzz around the flowers and listening to the symphonies of birdsongs each morning. We watched the progress of the peas, beets, lettuce and other seedlings as they sprouted and grew. The peas have over five leaves on each plant. We know. We counted.
Each morning, after breakfasting with Grandma, we’d march outside. Julian would say, “We have a lot of work to do today, Papa, don’t we?” I’d agree, listing our chores. We raked, chopped dead tree limbs, cultivated, and created most impressive burn piles. I continue to marvel at the intelligence of our little three and a half year old. Smart as a whip, he has a deep understanding of things around him, incessantly curious about the process of life. He uses words like “actually” and “absolutely” and makes me laugh when I realize how much like me he sounds. We both exulted in the therapeutic power of working hard together outdoors.
In stark contrast to the worries about Gordon’s health, something else happened. Something delightful.
I received the kind of good news that makes one’s heart flutter with disbelief - a publishing contract offered by Twilight Times Books. Tremelo: Cry of the Loon, will be published in the fall of 2006 under the Paladin Timeless imprint. This was the first time it’s been offered to a publisher. It’s the fifth novel written in the Gus LeGarde series, a nostalgic and stirring flashback to 1964. Tremelo may be billed as a “memoir-cum-novel” and features Gus’s eleventh summer at his grandparents’ camp in the Belgrade Lakes of Maine.
“Memoir-cum-novel?” Yes. It’s a term suggested by my new publisher, an insightful, lovely lady named Lida Quillen, every author’s dream. Memoir – because it’s based on my summers in Maine as a child. Blissful, sun drenched, pinetreed summers. Novel – because I plunked Gus, Elsbeth, and Siegfried in my grandparents’ camp and gave them a mystery to solve. I suggested “memoir-cum-mystery,” but don’t know if that will fly.
Lida is amazing. She communicates, shocking as that may sound, and does so regularly and eloquently. In the first week of contract signing, we’ve endlessly discussed publishing details, genre, title, history, and target audience. We’ve talked about offering Tremelo for younger adult readers versus the broader age group I envisioned. We’ve discussed grandparents reading the book with their grandchildren. Gus learns some serious lessons about the horrible topics of bigotry and rape. Through it all, he becomes strong and grows into a tolerant, wiser eleven-year-old.
Lida has put up with a million questions from me and answered with a virtual smile. Willingly. Politely. Immediately. In an unexpected way, thanks to Twilight Times’ welcome, I feel like I’ve come home, too.
But of course, along with the supreme joy that accompanies this news, comes angst. The moment I opened the acceptance email, I tossed my current work in progress (#10) into the “wait” pile and furiously began to polish Tremelo. Again. Nerves took hold. Is it good enough? Does it represent my best writing? I wrote it several years ago, so obviously it couldn’t be my best. Should I rewrite it from scratch?
After a day of mental turmoil, I decided to toss Tremelo up to my “Inner Circle” for one more round of edits. Lida graciously allowed me as much time as needed to buff it up. So, my treasured troupe of readers and writers will have another chance to catch those awkward phrases or timing inconsistencies. These folks are amazing. In spite of their own personal trials, they come through for me. One friend, for example, is struggling with a troublesome publisher. Promised the world, strung along for months, and constantly disappointed, she remains ever optimistic and faithful, searching out my stupid mistakes with unfailing support. Another, dealing with severe home issues, continues to “nit” to perfection, finding time in her traumatic life to help me reach closer to the elusive perfect manuscript. Another struggles to balance her husband’s needs with her writing life. There’s never enough time for both, never mind her own writing, yet she finds time for me. And so on. And so on. These “crit buddies,” if you will, are the lifeblood of the process. I may rewrite the manuscript a dozen times, but not without the final polish achieved by “fresh” eyes on the prose.
Things take time to grow. With time, seedlings turn to plants, given sun, rain, and good soil. Baby lungs heal, provided time and meds. Worries diminish, after hours in the sun with a little boy. And literary careers flourish, with doggedness, resolve, and friendship.
Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar at 2:54 PM
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar at 9:11 PM
Aaron Paul Lazar
Aaron Paul Lazar
I shot myself in the foot.
Well, not literally, of course. I did it inadvertently when I bought a fancy-dancy “memory foam” pad for our bed.
Memory foam? Am I supposed to remember my dreams better? Maybe so. I’ve had some doozies lately. Like the one where six helicopters swarmed down on my house and unloaded armored agents from Kodak to see if I was “compliant.” Compliant with what? Rules about pixels or image composition? Who knows? Anyway, after tromping through my house and computer, they left in a flurry while I log-rolled down a clover-covered hill in sheer bliss. Man, I love those dreams.
I guess memory foam is supposed to conform to your form. Is that it? Then I really screwed up. On top of that oh-so-comfy foam cover, I bought red flannel sheets. And a down-filled pillow. Add to that my down comforter with the cozy corduroy cover and you’ve got… sweet comfort. Sheer, indulgent, keep-ya-in-bed-forever comfort.
I’ve never had a nice bed. Chalk it up to lack of finances, higher priorities, or just my acceptance of things less-than-perfect. I always woke up with back pain and often limped to the bathroom when the alarm screeched at me. But now, life is different.
This morning the alarm went off at 6:00. I lay there, warm and cozy and so comfy I just couldn’t get up.
I’m gonna be late. And I don’t care.
I pressed the snooze button. First mistake.
Just a few more minutes. Mmm.
I pressed it again. Second mistake. I rolled over and turned my back to the alarm.
Oh, so comfy. Oh so warm.
Jasmine purred. She lifted one soft black paw to my cheek and patted it. I stretched a hand out from the warmth and stroked her long, black fur. She pushed her head against my hand. I mumbled to her.
“Nice Kitty. Good Girl.”
She scooched closer. I smelled her kitty breath.
Maybe I should take a vacation day. I haven’t stayed home in a long time.
More kitty paw-patting. She maneuvered her front leg under my blankets and tried to crawl inside. Her face was inches from mine. She snuffled. She wheezed. I opened one eye.
And then she sneezed all over my face. A great big, wet, sloppy horrible mess.
I yelled, pushed her back, swiped at my face, and got up. After sloshing soap and water all over my mouth, nose and cheeks, I looked in the mirror.
Shoot! I’m gonna be late!
Maybe I ought to go back to my lumpy old mattress. And get Jasmine some Claritin.
Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar at 3:09 PM
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Defining the “Real” Writer
By Aaron Paul Lazar
By Aaron Paul Lazar
Dana, an aspiring author, recently went through a severe session of self-doubt. Her life had been tough lately. Very tough. Serious problems with her anorexic teen daughter spiked, requiring sudden hospitalization. On top of that, the whole traumatic event was exacerbated by Dana’s unstable and abusive spouse, who decided this would be the perfect time to punch his wife in the eye and threaten abandonment.
You thought your life was tough? She faces this stuff on a daily basis and fights to do what’s right for her beloved daughter while struggling to maintain her sanity. Sure, there are other problems that dwarf Dana’s. But having to return home each night, dreading the reception you’ll get or the harassment you’ll have to endure, is like living in Stress City. I can’t imagine going home each night to that. It’s gotta be hell.
So, when we met for our writers’ meeting and she began to pour out her doubts about her ability to write, her “right” to write, her commitment to the craft… it got me thinking.
“I can’t be a real writer, because I didn’t make the time to write. I wasn’t driven, like you are,” she said. “Look at you! You have so many problems, yet you’re on your tenth book in five years. You make time for it. And I’m still struggling with my first.”
It floored me. She thought if it wasn’t happening now, that it would never happen.
I reminded her that life can sometimes get in the way and that fighting for her daughter’s life and fending off blows from an idiotic husband might just take precedence over working on a novel. Besides that, she’s works a forty-hour job outside the house, commutes a few hours a day, and still takes complete care of the home, meals, and dog. It’s gotta be enough to level anyone’s ambition.
I told Dana she has a lovely “voice” and an easy, readable style and then reminded her that I didn’t start writing - seriously writing - until my father died when I was forty-four years old. At that point, my daughters were a bit more self-sufficient. They learned to do their own laundry, make their lunches, and get their homework done without too much help from dear old Dad.
Dana started thinking about her novel again. She resumed the process of planning and plotting by signing up for an online class.
Our discussion flushed out thoughts about the definition of a “real” writer. What is a “real” writer? Am I one? Or does that honor only belong to published best sellers like Laurie King or John D. MacDonald? Does one have to be recognizable via best sellers to earn the title? I’m realized that I’ve secretly harbored that ridiculous notion for far too long. And you know what? I hereby reject it.
I am a writer, damn it. A real one. There. I said it.
But what about ten years ago when I was in Dana’s position? I hadn’t written one novel yet. Sure, ideas floated around in my head and I busily took mental photographs of everything around me with intense detail. But I didn’t write it down except in journals and long letters to friends.
Was I a “real” writer then? Was I ineligible to hold the title because I hadn’t unleashed the words yet? I knew I wanted to write. I’d dabbled in high school and college and adored it. I wrote at work – but it was all technical stuff and there was this incredible longing that simmered beneath the surface for something more creative. I planned to someday write a mystery series, but thought it would be when I retired. That urge to write – that desire to get it all out of my head – it was always there. I wasn’t a “real” writer yet… was I?
What is the mechanism that liberates your muse? What drives you to finally open the floodgates and let it out? There are many novelists who wait until later in life to get their writing careers going. And yet, there are others who jump out of the starting gate in their youth and keep plowing through ‘til only death stops them.
In my case, the catalyst was the death of my father. I needed an outlet and I found it. Once the doors were opened, I couldn’t shut them, even if I wanted to. The words just burst through like water breaking through a dam. The lift afforded by the creative outlet was cathartic. It felt so good that I was hooked for life.
So, for those of you, like Dana, who haven’t yet begun to get those words out – don’t despair and don’t think it won’t happen. This writing thing is something in your heart, something imprinted indelibly in your spirit that just won’t go away. The urge is there. From the beginning. And you will write.
It happened to me. It will happen to Dana. And it can happen to you.
Don’t moan about what you haven’t done yet. When the time is right, you’ll start tapping away at that keyboard or pick up that pen and release the floodwaters. When it happens, you’ll never turn back. And sure, you can thank me then by writing a glorious novel that might even change the way someone looks at life. Sigh. Imagine that. Won’t it be lovely?
Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar at 9:39 AM
Friday, June 09, 2006
A true story, by Aaron Paul Lazar
My grandson and I trundled along on our John Deere lawn tractor, pulling a cartful of leaves and sticks toward the burn pile.
“Papa!” Julian shrieked “A birdie! Don’t run over it!”
I slowed down and turned off the tractor.
“It’s okay, buddy. We didn’t hit it. But I’m afraid it’s dead.”
The starling lay on its side; its plumage glistened blue-black in the hot sun; its eyes dulled in death.
“Why’s it dead?” Julian lamented.
“I don’t know. Maybe it was a very old bird.”
Or maybe it hit the window, I thought.
“Did someone shoot him?” he asked tearfully. He climbed down from my lap and walked over to examine the corpse.
Shooting had become a big deal in his life and I couldn’t figure out why. Everything he picked up that remotely resembled a gun was aimed and “fired” at bad guys. Empty paper towel rolls, dried perennial stalks, plastic table legs… it didn’t matter what it was, it turned into an instrument of death.
“Did they…did they shoot him?”
“No, no. I’m sure that wasn’t it, honey. I think he was just old,” I fibbed.
Allouette sat on the porch, eyeing us with her jade green eyes. Her fluffy black and orange tail plumed up and down - a bad sign for a cat. Had she killed the bird? I shrugged off the thought. Normally her prey was delivered neatly on our doorstep with a cacophony of catcalls.
We got back on the tractor and headed for the burn pile.
“Papa? Is the bird dead?”
I nodded, kissed the top of his curly hair, and answered again.
“I’m afraid so.”
We pulled up beside the pile. “Okay, key man. Turn her off.”
“I’m the key man,” he smiled as he reached for the key. Once the rumble of the engine faded, he added, “Why did he die?”
I sighed. This one wasn’t going away. “I’m not sure, Jules.”
I grabbed the rake that leaned against the cottonwood. Armful by careful armful, I tossed the dried twigs and leaves onto the crackling fire. The dead leaves floated up like ghostly bats, fluttering on the breeze as they rose to the heavens.
“But what will happen to him?” he asked plaintively.
I didn’t tell him that I planned to scoop it up with a shovel and toss it way back into the woods.
“Come here, buddy. Let’s sit for a minute.”
I rested the rake against the tree trunk and offered my hand. He took it, then followed me to the green metal glider.
I smiled and lifted him to my lap. “There you go. Are you comfortable?”
He nodded, but his brow furrowed again. “But the birdie…”
An idea sparked in the back of my mind.
“Would you like to bury him, Julian? Would that be a good idea?”
His eyes lit up with hope as he nodded his head vigorously. “Yes! We should bury him. But…” His eyes scanned the property. “Where?”
I pointed toward the woods that curved around the back of the yard. “Over there. Come on, let’s get our tools.”
I set him back on the ground and headed for the barn. Julian scampered beside me, chattering all the way. “Can I use my shovel, Papa?” he asked as he ran inside and lifted his blue plastic shovel off the nail.
“Sure. I’ll bring my shovel, too.”
I grabbed the spade and we walked back to the tractor. After throwing our shovels in the cart, we drove back to the lawn where the starling lay. While Julian observed, I scooped the poor bird onto the blade, set it in the cart, and got back on the tractor. Julian jumped up on my right knee.
“Okay. Key man. Do your thing.”
He turned the key. The engine roared to life. He looked up at me, beaming. “You’re the potato man.”
I laughed out loud. We’d just planted three long rows of potatoes that morning. “I guess I am.”
“And I’m the key man.”
“Right. Okay, let’s head out. You wanna drive?”
My three-year-old grandson looked at me with wide eyes.
“Sure. Here. You can hold the wheel.”
He moved closer to the wheel, grabbed it eagerly, and almost plowed us into the lilac bushes.
“Oops. Turn it left, buddy. That’s right. Now straighten it out. Okay. Okay, good. Now right.”
He “drove” us to the woods and automatically turned off the key when I braked near a row of old apple trees. Quickly, he dismounted and ran to the bird in the cart. I hurried to his side.
“Don’t touch it!”
He took a cautious step back.
I slid the bird onto the ground, then found a soft spot of dirt beneath a gnarled apple tree.
“This looks good.”
I began to dig. It took only a few minutes. The dirt was typical of our land – soft and loamy. Julian helped, then I lowered the bird into the hole and covered it. He patted the dirt on top. I considered fashioning a cross to complete the burial, but decided against it.
We put our shovels back in the cart, then headed toward the barn. My key man turned on the engine and steered with my help all the way back. After parking the tractor behind the barn, we hung up our shovels and headed back to the burn pile.
“Will he come alive again?” Julian asked as his eyes darted to the woods. “Will the dirt make him better?”
“No, honey. When you die, it’s forever.”
A sudden thought flashed through my brain.
I don’t want my grandson to think it’s really over when we die.
I kneeled beside him.
“His body is dead. It will stay under the ground. But his spirit is free now. He’s in birdie Heaven.”
I flinched at the words, realizing I was pushing it. Although embarrassed to admit it, I actually pictured my deceased cats and dogs in Heaven, frolicking around my father and grandparents, waiting for me to join them someday. I truly believed we’d all be reunited when we passed. But I hadn’t actually considered whether birds had souls. Somehow, the idea had appeal. If Julian could begin to understand the concept of Heaven and spiritual beings...
I tried to explain about the body and the soul for the next half hour. I used images of an angel, which Julian had seen, to stand in for the spirit. I don’t think he completely understood. But then again, neither do I.
The next day, Julian and I were outside at the burn pile, throwing on the deadened limbs from our Stanley plum tree.
“Can we go see the bird again, Papa?”
“We can’t really see the bird, honey. He’s buried.”
“But we can dig him up!” he said. “Maybe he’s alive now!”
I explained, again, while we drove to the grave.
“We don’t dig up the buried body. It won’t come alive again. It stays there.”
“But he’s happy, right? He’s in Heaven with God.”
I looked down at my little pal and grinned. A surge of love blossomed within me.
“Yeah. That’s right, honey. He’s happy now.”
We walked hand-in-hand back to the house as he chattered about life and angels and Heaven. I gripped his soft little hand and sighed with joy.
I love being a grandfather.
Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar at 1:43 PM
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Tag Team Writing
by Aaron Paul Lazar
I thought it couldn’t be done. Write a piece with another author? Someone who has a distinctly different voice than mine? No way! We’d clash. We’d argue. Neither of us would be satisfied, and the end result would be disastrous, a muddied representation of watered down prose.
When a friend of mine asked for help with her query letter, I agreed - but I didn’t expect it would be done “live.” I thought we’d edit and attach recommendations via email, like we normally do. This time, however, she suggested that we actually get together to do this, on one computer, face-to-face. My instincts roared up into a tsunami. No way! I thought. I had massive doubts and began to type up something on my own.
She arrived shortly thereafter, with her own query written in advance. Aha! She has the same reservations about this dubious process.
For those who haven’t had the privilege of crafting a query yet, it’s basically a one-page pitch that writers send to potential publishers or agents. It needs to have a short paragraph that regales your book in such an eloquent, witty style that the publisher has no choice but to immediately snap you up with a hefty advance. It’s impossible to do, especially if you are writing about your own book. I know. I’ve tried. For days. For weeks. Although my current publisher is competent and has been decent to me, I’m currently trying to hook a big time player who’s in the mass media stream. Finally, a fellow writer helped me with my own query and I wound up with a gorgeous paragraph, neatly crafted, that I didn’t write. Oh well.
My friend arrived. We sat down at my computer and began. After a few false starts, we began to meld our paragraphs, taking the phrases we favored from each other’s drafts. It started to work. What resulted was a “brainstorming-for-two” session. In the past, my experiences with brainstorming have been confined to engineering team activities involving problem solving or research and design. What normally happens in this environment is “no thoughts are judged.” Ideas are floated up, bandied about, and recorded. One idea builds on another. And another. Sometimes, if the team is lucky, some supremely unusual and fantastic combination of ideas results in innovation.
And so, we brainstormed. I typed up silly phrases that danced around the topics. She tossed out words and phrases. We built on the words, wending our way toward jump-off-the-page, dynamic sentences. Together, we isolated the choicest phrases. It sang. It was lyrical. It was the best darned one paragraph synopsis I’d ever read.
My misgivings were all for naught. My instincts were flawed. It can work. Tag team writing can be successful. (At least in this venue.)
So, once again, the Lord keeps me humble. Oh yeah… and so do all those rejection letters!
Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar at 9:00 AM
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
This whole blog thing is a new adventure for me. I've spent most of my energy creating two new mystery series and working on my websites. Consider this an invitation to visit at:
I'm going to use this blog as a showcase for my Seedlings Column - featured at Bob Burdick's The Back Room and FMAM (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine). "Seedlings" are little seeds of ideas that sprouted in my brain while driving to work or before falling asleep. Not enough to flesh out into novels, by any means, but insistent enough to require capturing, all the same.
Here's the first of many. Do let me know if you find them useful. Feel free to email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advice for New Writers
by Aaron Paul Lazar
by Aaron Paul Lazar
In my “day job” as an electrophotographic engineer, numerous emails are exchanged each day. Sometimes, when discussing an esoteric topic such as transmission density or fusing quality, I sense a “writer’s voice” within the technical flurry of words.
Occasionally, I ask the sender if they’ve ever done any writing. A year ago, a colleague answered, “I loved to write in high school, but I just don’t have time anymore!”
She was extraordinarily busy, mothering an active two-year-old, commuting over an hour a day, managing her home, as well as holding down a full-time managerial job.
I knew she was overloaded, but sensed a unique talent in her words. I didn’t hesitate.
“Just write,” I suggested. “Take fifteen minutes at lunch each day.”
“But what would I write about?” she asked. “I have no idea where to start!”
“Write whatever comes into your head. It doesn’t matter what it is. Once you get going, it’ll just flow out of you. You don’t need a plan. Just do it.”
She wrote during a break the next day and sent me a page of lovely prose. I encouraged her to continue. We began to exchange writing daily, swapping edits and chapters with glee. Mind you, this was as good for me as it was for her. She had talent. Lots of it. And she was a hell of an editor.
Six months later, my friend completed the manuscript for her first novel, a historical time-travel piece. She’s submitting it to publishers as I write this.
As time marches on, I collect little buds of knowledge through my association with other writers, continued voracious reading, and simply 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 genuine, you’ll find that you can’t stop! You’ll manage your life to 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 nine novels in a bit over five years.
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 hack away at 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 the descriptors sparingly. I’ve found that after writing nine books, 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. Now, this may sound ludicrously opposite to the previous point. But remember, use these details judiciously, don’t splatter them all over the page.
4) Listen to the voices! No, not the voices in your head – though they can be useful. Listen to the grocery clerk, the bank teller, children at play, professors, grandparents, and neighbors... listen! You’ll never create natural dialogue without listening - hard!
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 those 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 requires paying close attention to detail. It’s particularly important if you’re writing a series. If readers don’t care about your 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 characters’ growth.
7) Perfection comes later. Just get it out there, get it down on paper. Then, when you go back to it, 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. One tip that works is to read your prose aloud. There’s something about the verbalization of a sentence that shoots those ungainly words right to the surface. If you have trouble speaking the sentence, then cut out the words that make you stumble. Then, set it aside for a while. After I’ve completed a novel, I put it down and start on the next one. Many months later, sometimes years later, I’ll come back to it. It’s best if I don’t remember much (I’m often surprised at how much I forget!) 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. 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 or two writers who are 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 several writer friends now. They catch things that I miss, and I return the favor. We aren’t shy about helping – if a passage sounds stilted, they tell me immediately! If I want to “see” more of the details in a scene, I ask them to elaborate. It works extremely well. Then, when the book is in a reasonable shape, I send it to another friend, who is a fine author in his own right. He goes through with a fine-toothed comb and imparts writing gems in the process. I call him, “The Master!”
If it weren’t for them, my books would stink. Well, maybe that’s a little extreme, but I’ve learned so much from them that the finished manuscripts read more smoothly and are of higher quality. I also have an “inner circle” of readers who’ve traveled with me through the series far in advance of publishing. They keep me honest and provide feedback about the characters they’ve come to love.
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. Try to avoid unnecessary excursions into boring territory. I use lots of dialogue; it moves the book along quickly. Short chapters also help the reader feel as if he’s making 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. Don’t submit anything but your 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 it, they’ll find something new. It seems endless. But if you keep at it, you will produce a superior product.
Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar at 10:01 PM