Sunday, August 17, 2008

Author Aaron Lazar with grandson, Julian

Hi, folks.

I'm off in Boston this week, moving my daughter into her new apartment so she can start grad school for her degree in Music Therapy. Time is short, so I've chosen another interview to share with you.
This one was conducted by Kodak. When they asked me to be their "Print Ambassador," we conducted an interview after shooting footage all over the Genesee Valley. By the way, my "day job," as an electrophotographic engineer, involves research and development on massive digital presses. That's what we're discussing, below.

Kodak: Are there ways in which designing presses helps you write mysteries, and vice versa?

Aaron: At first thought, you might imagine that there could be NO connection between engineering and writing. After all, electrophotographic engineering involves the science behind the digital presses we design and manufacture at NexPress, the physics behind the toner, developer, imaging cylinders, and the hardware that work together to deliver prints. One might be hard put to understand how such work - data, science, formulas, and hardware - could be even remotely related to writing. But when I'm on a project, whether it's the development of a new toner to meet incredibly stringent standards, or solving a complex system problem, there's always a mystery that needs to be solved. It's that challenge, that incredibly exciting contest, that gets my blood pumping. And its a similar excitement that courses through my veins when I'm reading or writing a mystery, trying to solve it, absorbing or creating clues, and imagining "whodunnit."

Of course, no matter what one's profession, there's always human drama in real life to stimulate a writer's emotions and imagination. My colleagues have experienced appalling trials, and these traumas spark fears.

What would I do if I lost either of my baby grandsons? How would I deal with the sudden death of my wife? What if I experienced a life changing heart attack? How would I handle it if one of my daughters was being abused, or was in danger?

Those are the fibers that make up the cloth of every day life. As in news stories, they generate a germ of an idea that may blossom and grow into a storyline or an entire book. Most of the themes I've used had come from my own life, but the influences of those around me cannot be denied.

Kodak: Why do you write mysteries as opposed some other genre?

Aaron: It's common wisdom that you should "write what you read."

I've always been a fan of mysteries, and used to devour them as a child. My parents would bring home boxes of books from auctions, and I'd be happily lost for weeks in series like The Hardy Boys. I graduated to books by Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and Helen McInnes in the years that followed. As time went on, I progressed to my current favorite novelists, including John D. MacDonald, James Patterson, Dick Francis, Clive Cussler, Laurie R. King, Lillian Jackson Braun, Peter Mayle, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Tony Hillerman.

Kodak: What's the feeling when you think of people actually holding a book in their hands which you've written, sitting with it, holding it, turning the pages, reading the printed words?

Aaron: The feeling is rather humbling and most phenomenal. To think of someone sitting in their living room, inhaling the sights and sounds and emotions I've painted on the printed page, fills me with an indescribable sense of joy and... a little bit of nervousness, too. My readers could be in Australia, or Iceland. Africa or Dallas. On a boat or in a plane. In bed or by the fireplace. Anywhere. Any time. Reading my words. My words... my characters, in the hands of folks I've never met. It gives me goose bumps. My parallel universe is suddenly out there, exposed, being absorbed by someone else. It's a little bit scary, but it can also be validating when they ask for more. That's the best part!

Kodak: Ebooks haven't really caught on. Do you think it's because of that whole tactile experience - holding the book, turning the pages?

Aaron: Ebooks are a great value that open up a world of publishing to thousands of authors whose work might not be available through other means, and some folks just love them. However, the majority of my readers have told me they want print books. They want to hold the book in their hands, turn the pages, feel the accompanying sense of "progress" that comes with it, and be able to put the book on their shelf when they're done. They want to save it for their children, and know it's going to be there in a hundred years.

I feel the same way. I like to carry a book in my back pocket or briefcase, sit out in the sun without worrying about the sun glaring off a screen, or having to tote around a heavy laptop or ebook reader. I especially love the feeling of holding the book in my hands when I finish a great read. It feels like a more personal connection with the author, without electronic ads popping up in the background. I turn the book around in my hands and "savor" the look and feel of it when I'm done. It becomes like an old friend, and the experience is only completed after I place it on my favorite bookshelf. Plus I especially love it when I can get the author to sign the flyleaf.

Kodak: Print has obviously played a big part in your life. Could you expand on that?

Print has opened up the whole world to me, allowing me to connect with my readers in a way that wouldn't be possible otherwise. That's what it's all about - the connections. The people I've met at book signings or through email have been astounding. And oftentimes, there are moments that just floor me.

Take for example the case of Jamie, a very successful young entrepreneur, who contacted me after reading Double Forté. He told me Gus LeGarde had "shown him that cooking a pot of stew, reading a stack of books and watching the Bambi movie with the ‘little ones' in our lives is more important that studying statements, proformus, and packing for the next business trip." He said, "I feel as though Gus, through your words, is actually slowing me down a little bit. Tonight, because of your book, I spent a little extra time while tucking them in. reading an extra bedtime story, and rocking the little one in her bedroom for ten minutes or so." His feedback warmed my heart. Even though I write mysteries, Gus is a diehard family man, and the books are filled with warm moments between him and his grandson, for example. If just one of my books causes just one of my readers to spend more time with their children...that's more than enough for me.

Kodak: What do you think it means to be an ambassador for print? And how do you think that role, for you or anyone, will continue to drive the future of print?

Aaron: Being an ambassador for print means to engage, motivate, and inspire readers. By creating a mystery series that grabs readers who want to learn more about the characters, to delve into their past and future, to dig deeper into the mysteries and come back for more - that seems to inspire them to read more, and that means more printing.

And if my humble words can influence one single reader, like Jamie, then that is the most satisfying and validating part of the whole process. Let's face it, print is here to stay. And along with all the other authors on this planet, I'm honored to be a small part of that process.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

As requested, here are some of my European photos. These were taken with a 35mm camera in the eighties. I've scanned the prints, so the quality isn't superb and the colors have dimmed, but perhaps they'll do the job!

I've also attached an excerpt from Mazurka, fourth in the LeGarde series and about to be released by Twilight Times Books. It's a break in the action - a tour of the Musee D'Orsay, in Paris. Scroll down to the bottom to find it.


Stein Am Rhein







Cross country skiing near Muelhausen, in the Schwabian Albs

Houses in Denkendorf

Notre Dame, Paris

Rainy Paris Street


The Seine

Notre Dame (see what I mean, Steve?)

Cabbies in Vienna (Wien)

My wife, Dale, in Paris

Me, in Paris, about age 33.

Excerpt from Mazurka:

We entered the Orsay Museum when the doors opened at 9:00. After paying for our tickets, we sauntered hand in hand through the grand, light-filled building to the Impressionist collection on the upper level, surprised the hall was relatively quiet. I'd expected that this collection of unequaled masterpieces would be mobbed all hours of the day.

Maybe everyone’s headed for the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa?

I chuckled, but quickly forgot my quirky inner thoughts when I spotted one of my all-time favorites, Jeune Filles au Piano by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Two charming sisters leaned toward sheet music propped on a piano. Long, silky locks rippled down their backs. Pastel bows carefully fastened their hair, capturing the slim plaits whispering across their cheeks. The golden-haired sister perched on a piano bench, her graceful right hand on the keyboard. She bore a faint resemblance to my daughter, Freddie. The pretty brunette leaned over her sister’s shoulder, carefully inspecting the music. Their faces were delicately drawn, their skin creamy white. Innocence leapt from the page. The soft whirls of Renoir’s paintbrush had captured youthful virtue so succinctly that I was unable to tear myself away. Even the background enchanted me. Feathery oranges and greens depicted heavy drapes that provided a soft backdrop for Renoir’s subjects. I knew this painting well and had enjoyed it from many a source, but the immediacy of standing directly before the original dazzled me.

Camille touched my arm and brought me back to earth.

“Look,” she whispered reverently. “The Swing.”

We sidestepped to the next offering. Renoir’s depiction of a sun-dappled afternoon hung before us. Two young men in straw hats and jackets flirted with a young lady who stood on a wooden swing. I imagined the drops of sun playing across her long white dress as she swung slowly back and forth. She wore pale pink flowers in her upswept strawberry-blond hair and responded coyly to her suitors’ teasing with downcast eyes.

We meandered slowly through the rest of the Renoir exhibit, enjoying each piece as one greets an old friend. We paused at Le Moulin de la Galette and enjoyed the sun-speckled depiction of the outdoor café, where companions socialized and danced in the splendor of the afternoon sun. Ornate, white-painted iron gas lamps stood in the background, offering their delicate glass globes to the heavens.

We shuffled slowly past the La Danse à la Campagne and La Danse à la ville, both painted in 1883. Just before we left the Renoir exhibit, I stopped before an unfamiliar work.

It was clearly Renoir, but the bucolic riverside view had never found its way into the Impressionist calendars or coffee table books in my collection. I moved closer to the painting, dazzled by the sense of movement that flowed from its vibrant brush strokes. Golden-green grasses swayed by the riverside, distinctly undulating in the moist river breeze. White clouds rolled overhead across the outlet where the blue river merged with the sea. I wondered if Renoir had picnicked on this airy riverbank as he captured the scene for all eternity.

Spellbound, we moved into the Degas gallery and stopped to admire the bronze figure of the ballerina, Grande Danseuse, sculpted in 1881 by the master. A cast bronze corset anchored an authentic taffeta skirt. The young dancer’s proud face thrust forward in a nearly arrogant expression as she positioned her slim arms behind her.

Next, we strolled to paintings of vivid horse races, marveling at the artist’s ability to capture the excitement of the racing field. Dancers and bathing women covered the walls. Degas worshipped each woman through his honest depiction of her daily activities.

We reached the hall that featured our mutually favorite artist, Claude Monet. We lingered for a long time before the paintings of the artist’s gardens in Giverny, France. I stood, hypnotized, before the works of the genius who so deeply loved nature and light, and turned to Camille.

“You know the large perennial garden on the south side of our house?”

“Mmm hmm,” she answered.

Her eyes were glued to the painting as she luxuriated in the flow of colors bathing her senses.

“Elsbeth and I designed it to match this painting. Grape-colored bearded iris and red poppies. Of course it’s not even close, but that was our intent.”

“I can see it,” she said graciously, smiling and tilting her head to the left. “I thought it looked familiar.”

Our short visit ended with the massive water lily studies that sparkled from the walls. I imagined floating in a rowboat past the dripping weeping willows and sliding beneath the delicate Japanese bridges spanning the sun-drenched lily pond.

“Next time,” I said, “we need to allow several days to spend here, and then we’ve got to visit the gardens in Giverny. They’ve redone them, you know, and have replicated the original designs that Monet planted. Lily ponds and all.”

“Really?” she asked. “I’ll bet they’re gorgeous.”

Her stomach growled loudly, causing a few heads to turn. She blushed. We’d been gazing at the precious artwork for five hours - it had seemed like minutes. But a quick recheck of the time showed it was indeed nearly two o’clock. We still planned to visit Chopin’s residence and take a short tour in the famous Catacombs that snaked beneath the city.

“Hungry?” I asked.

She nodded. I was ravenous, and gladly took her arm to rejoin the thronging crowds on the streets of Paris.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hi, folks. I have a book signing this weekend and am moving my daughter to Boston next week, so I won't be able to write my usual Sunday column for a few Sundays. I hope you understand.

Instead, I'm going to post a few interviews. This one was conducted by Beryl Singleton Bissell, author of The Scent of God.


BSB: As I was reading Tremolo, I kept thinking what fun it would be if you created a series of these “young Gus” stories for middle readers. Sort of like the Hardy Boy’s of the late 20th Century. Do you have any plans for such a series and if not, why?

APL: Actually, I do have plans to continue the “young Gus” series – at least two more books. I haven’t aimed these at any age group in particular, however. It seems my oldest readers (one of my favorite readers is 98 years old!) enjoy the young Gus romps as much as the YA crowd.

I still haven’t “shown” my readers the year after Tremolo, when Siegfried is struck on the head by a motorboat and loses most of his faculties. Poor Sig. He’s my angel on earth.

And let’s face it – I probably won’t be able to rest until I have “documented” Gus’s whole life!
I’ve written another prequel that takes Gus and Elsbeth to Boston in the late sixties, when they both attended the music conservatory. It’s a delicious hippie aged adventure, replete with flower children, white slave traders, and plenty of emotional plunges. That book may generate some of its own sequels. Gus and Elsbeth are just married in Portamento and they discover their pregnancy at the same time that Gus’s grandmother becomes seriously ill. Multiple traumas happen to our poor hero! On top of that, he almost gets pecked to death by a peacock. But that’s another story for another day…

BSB: I’ve noticed how totally good and loving your main characters are, and how totally evil the criminal are. Most of us, even the most jaded, have elements of both good and bad within us. Can you explain why you’ve chosen to present your characters as either good or bad.

APL: It’s strange, but I never really “chose” to do this. It’s just the way it tumbled out of my brain. I’m not sure why, because I’m certainly aware of how most folks are a blend of good and bad. Maybe it’s just exposure to too many movies where characters are painted that way. Or simply the way my crazy imagination works.

Better yet, it could be my passion for opera. You know there are always the good guys and bad guys, and rarely anyone in between. I think that must be it.

BSB: I am interested in ways that your writing has impacted your life. Can you tell us about how writing changes or strengthens you?

APL: This is a great question, Beryl, one that I know you have great insight to in your own life.
When life gets tough – I turn to my writing for solace, borne of escapism.

Sure, family and friends help soothe life’s woes, and they are fantastic sources of comfort. Especially those hugs I get from my little grandsons. But there’s something uniquely satisfying about turning to the parallel universe I control (when I can’t control anything else) and “taking charge.” Gus LeGarde and Sam Moore (protagonists of both mystery series) are a lot like me, and by creating scenes with them I’m able to participate in virtual adventures. Or to relive the loss of a loved one – and work out those feelings. Or to recapture the joy of childhood. Or to get my blood pumping in my virtual armchair by running helter-skelter through the woods after a bad guy. Or to enjoy “visits” with my beloved father and grandparents, who are populated throughout the books.

You get the drift.

But even if life wasn’t fraught with its own very real problems (we have plenty of medical problems in our family), I’d still write. I have no choice. I need the stimulation of the creative process every day. I need to connect with readers. I live for that.

There’s nothing more satisfying that coming across a reader in the local grocery store who stares with star-struck eyes and tells me how she wants to marry Gus LeGarde. And so does her mother. LOL. It’s great.

Seriously, though, there are deep connections that bind us together – whether they are through themes of loss, honor, family, nature, gardens, music, art, or any common element that resonates with readers. I always encourage my readers to connect with me at aaron dot lazar at yahoo dot com.

BSB: How does your family react to your writing and your writing life and its demands?

APL: You’ll laugh at this one. Or maybe not. Could it be a common problem?

My family is jealous of my writing.

It’s not like I squirrel away in a secret place to write for hours during the day. I don’t. Though sometimes I wish I could!

I get through the day’s needs – engineering, commuting, dinner, babysitting, dishes, catching up – and then I take just an hour or two to write and promote.

Whether it’s late at night or in the early morning, I need a few hours for myself. It was impossible when my three daughters were younger and needed me for everything. You know, laundry, homework, packing lunches, driving everyone to drama club practice, band practice, soccer games, or piano lessons. But as they matured and became more independent, I found the time to pull away just a little.

Even now, it’s never enough. Promoting takes so much time away from the pure writing process that it’s sometimes frustrating. But “nobody ever bought a book they haven’t heard about,” so it’s a necessary part of the business.

My wife is proud of me, but sometimes she gets jealous of “me and the computer.” I try to explain that it’s “me and my books,” but she always mentions about that darned computer. Says we’re joined at the hip.

My daughters seem proud – but they haven’t read all of my books yet. I think that’s because “it’s just Dad,” and they can read them anytime. I guess it’s like that “in your backyard” scenario. I live near Rochester, NY, and I’ve never visited the George Eastman House. Because it’s right there and I can visit “anytime.” Shameful, really.

So now can I add more sex and violence to my books?

Originally I wanted to write stuff that was titillating, but wholesome. I avoided the sex scene details, worried what my little girls would think of their daddy. As time went on, though, in the later books I have added some mild steam to the mix. Nothing scummy or graphic – just sensual scenes between Gus and his wife. In Mazurka, which is due out this year from Twilight Times Books, Gus and Camille enjoy their first “time” together in Paris on the night of their honeymoon. My readers have waited a LONG time for this event.

BSB: With your busy schedule as an engineer, gardener, chef of family feasts and other meals, photographer, blogger, father, grandfather, how do you find time to write?

APL: It’s not easy. On top of the above tasks, I also do the cleaning, laundry, home repairs, shopping, and bills. Oh, I hate doing the bills. Maybe someday when I’m rich and famous (LOL) I won’t have to worry about the struggle. But it never seems to end, even when you think it’s going to “get easier this year.”

But things worthwhile are never easy, are they?

I manage to balance it by putting family first and writing second. The rest comes along for the ride. I also cook healthy feasts on Sundays and we eat off of that every night during the week. Lots of veggies, poultry, and fish. And if the oil change in the car is a little overdue, or if my weeds aren’t all neat and tidy like Sam Moore’s gardens (the creep is retired; I’m so jealous!), or the kitchen floor isn’t shining… well, so be it. I’ve gotta write. I have no choice.

Thank you, Beryl, for these lovely questions! Unique and insightful, they gave me an opportunity to chat about stuff I usually keep to myself. :o)