Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Review: The Farringford Cadenza, by Robert D. Sutherland
review by Aaron Lazar

Author:   Robert D. Sutherland
Publisher:   The Pikestaff Press
Genre: Mystery, 523 pages
Publisher's Address: PO Box 127, Normal, Illinois 61761
ISBN number:  978-0-936044-08-8
Price: $15.95
Publisher website address:
Author’s personal website:
Mystery-writing blog:

“October 18, 1947

As the train slows to a crawl for its scheduled stop at Bristow,Pennsylvania, its cars glide like dark coffins past the lights spaced evenly on poles along the station platform. Eight coaches back from the locomotive, the window of a particular sleeping compartment presents a blank and staring eye to the lights as they tick rhythmically past. Each, in its turn, briefly illuminates the table just inside the window—the highball glasses and overflowing ashtray— the formal dress-suit, with tailed coat, hanging on the wall— the rumpled bed—the body on the bed.

When the train has chuffed to a halt with a rumbling shudder and hissing of steam, a light-pole stands directly opposite the window. Should anyone look in—that porter, say, trundling past with his baggage cart—he’d see, starkly displayed among the tangled bedclothes, a man of middle-age—lean, angular, face-up and stretched full-length in striped pajamas. Left arm bent across the chest; right flung far aside to hang in space. Dark chestnut hair just slightly streaked with gray. Face like putty, gone to sag; backward tilted, mouth agape; eyes slitted upward with a jellied stare. 

A closer look: the pajama shirt is wrongly buttoned, the trousers twisted awkwardly askew and backside front.

The Farringford Cadenza is evocative of a deliciously complex British mystery, underpinned with American sass and laced with luscious musical themes. When a rare six-minute piano composition by musical genius Charles Philip Farringford disappears, a nut and shell game extraordinaire begins. After decades of mystery, like a leaf flitting on a playful breeze, the cadenza appears in a piano bench in a dusty old shop, only to be stolen, re-stolen, diverted, hidden, passed around, stolen again, and disappeared, time and time again. Just when you think you know which shell the cadenza is under, the scales tip and the hunt begins anew.

When American composer Charles Farringford dies in bed on a train bound for New York City in 1947, he’s discovered dressed with his pajama pants on backwards and his top buttoned wrong. This untimely death follows three rare performances of the hand-written piano cadenza, integral to the fourth movement of Farringford’s Fifth Concerto. Performed only to three audiences whose lives were literally changed by the legendary music, powerful enough to bestow stallion-like powers on the impotent, to haunt the lives of those affected, to cause rare collectors to salivate and offer millions for its return, the music disappears on the day the beloved composer dies, only to turn up over thirty-four years later in Baltimore.

With the press agog and musicians stirred up all over the world, music lovers prepare to be thrilled by the cadenza. This life-changing music that propelled listeners to states of rapture when first heard in 1947 is scheduled to be delivered to Lunner and Dinch, the publishers of the original Concerto. The music went to press without the cadenza, but was performed by pianists who’ve written their own interpretation of the missing movement. But the mystical music is not yet to be heard by the public, for bodies begin to drop with an alarming rate and the cadenza once again disappears.

Detective N. F. Trntl (yes, there are no vowels in her last name), a tough, clever, persistent investigator who can foil the worst villain, is hired by Farringford’s family and Lunner and Dinch to find the cadenza and bring it home. She and her assistant, Carol, begin a series of misadventures that have them bouncing between Baltimore and New York, pursued by the Mob and rubbing shoulders with the elite, including spunky and talented pianist Rosamond Foxe, who is lusted after by the rich and powerful Victor Zyzynski and who also is intricately and intimately woven into this delightful mystery. I’ll not spoil the plot, but the finale of this masterful novel spirals to a page turning end, moving from St. Croix to New York City, and kept this reviewer up into the wee hours of the morning.

Sutherland’s style is professional and polished, his wit delightful, but what I found most intriguing were his character descriptions. For example:

“He was a wizened gnome, extremely short, with an exceedingly thin and pointed nose, the skin of his face cross-hatched with deep lines and creases. Behind rimless lenses, steel-blue eyes stared unblinking; the sphincter of his mouth was a tight pucker. On the table before him, his hands rested plump and pawlike, corrugated with prominent blue veins and freckled with age spots. His nails glistened as if painted with clear lacquer.”

And this:

“Fingers was a squat, burly man with large ears, ponderous jowls road-mapped with crimson capillaries, and restless belly-button eyes.”

If you like twists and turns, if you’ve ever been emotionally stirred by music, if you love an intellectual chuckle, or if you’re a fan of page-turning chase scenes, you’ll find The Farringford Cadenza a delightful read.
Robert D. Sutherland


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries 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 websites at and and watch for his upcoming release, HEALEY’S CAVE, coming in 2010.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Writing the Tough Stuff (or: How to Kill the One You Love)

copyright 2010, aaron paul lazar

For those of you who write fiction—novels, to be precise—have you ever written a chapter where you killed 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 have. And it tore my heart out. That’s what I mean by “writing the tough stuff.” Sam Moore is very much like me, except he’s twelve years older and retired with enough money to putter around in his gardens all day.

I hate him.

Okay, so maybe that’s a little harsh. Shall we say, I am exceedingly jealous of his lifestyle. Although Sam was a family doctor and I was an engineer, we’re still a lot alike. We both love to plunge our hands into the soft earth and grow things. Lots of 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.

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, you feel ALL your characters’ pain. You have to, to get into their heads and really do it right. Right?

But I’ll bet some 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 off. Rachel loves to cook (that’s my job in our marriage), she’s in a wheelchair, and she stays pretty upbeat, considering her challenges. She’s a tribute to Dale. But she’s actually her own woman, too, and I love her deeply. (Sorry, honey!)

In the first two books of the Moore Mysteries series (debut novel coming out May 2010, Healey’s Cave; sequel One Potato, Blue Potato, 2011) Rachel sticks by Sam’s side, supports him when he’s overcome with grief and is plagued by strange paranormal events, and loves him enough to keep him sane.

In For Keeps, the third book in the series, life takes an awful turn. Rachel is murdered, and 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 real life, Sam gets a “do over.” He flies back in time to desperately try to fix the problems that lead up to this gruesome act, and over and over again, he attempts to tweak the past to bring his dear Rachel back to life.

For Keeps won’t be out for a few years, but since I’m doing a little polish on it right now, I thought I’d ask you folks if you’ve ever had to write such a chapter? If so, feel free to share it in the comment section, below. Let us know how it made you feel, or paste a sample for us to read. Following is my attempt to write the “tough stuff.”

Here’s the setup. Sam has just picked up his son, Andy, from the airport. Andy finished his second tour of duty in Iraq, and this is his homecoming. Sam ignored the insistence of the green marble, which has been searing Sam’s leg all day from his pocket; little brother Billy was trying to “warn” him.


           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 held out both hands to keep Sam out of the room.
            One of Rachel’s shoes lay beside the doorjamb. The brown clogs. Slip on. With lambs wool 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, 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.

Okay, that's it for this week. Now remember, no matter what else happens in your life on this Valentines Day, write like the wind!

                                                                                                            - Aaron 

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Writing with Kids

copyright 2010, aaron paul lazar

I've written hundreds of articles about the craft of writing, the world of publishing, the aching sense of loneliness we writerw sometimes endure as solitary artists, and so many more writing life topics… But I haven't ever written about children and their heads-full-of-stories.

I’m going to admit something to you. I’m an old fuddy duddy. At least when it comes to kids and their upbringing. If you’ve read any of my “slice of life” articles where I share stories about my grandkids, you already know that I believe kids should be outside, playing. Simply playing. They should be using their imaginations, climbing trees, picking wild blackberries, throwing balls, and running. Lots of running is important.  

My childhood was full of those activities and more. I was lucky enough to have an old chestnut gelding, and we roamed the woods and fields alone and with friends for most of my young years.

So, here it is: winter 2010, we STILL have no snow to frolic in, and I see my grandsons playing this godawful Xbox 360 (or whatever the heck it’s called!). So, I get crazy. I hate seeing them pretending to drive, bomb, kick, hit, stab or whatever it is those stupid games allow them to do. I REALLY hate it. But they aren’t mine to raise (not 100%, anyway, LOL) and I have to tolerate some of this stuff that comes with their generation.

This week, however, I decided to lure them away with the idea of making a book together. Julian helped me with chapter 1 and part of chapter 2; Gordie took over midway through chapter 2, and then it snowballed. I typed and helped them by asking questions like, “and what did they see in the green puddle?” and “what did the billy goat say to the boy?” etc. Each boy wanted to write a chapter every night. We got up to chapter four, and then they had to leave to go to their daddy’s house. We’ll add more next week when they come back. They drew pictures on the computer, and we printed them out to use in our “book.” We made four copies of it for various members of the family, and they erupted in peals of laughter every time a new victim read the story.

I can’t tell you how much fun it was, but thought for a lark I’d share some of our unedited creations below. Now, if we were writing this for a real storybook, I might have jumped in more and suggested some funny twists. But really, it was funny enough to see what came out of their little boy minds. I even left in all the exclamation marks that I HAD to include because of how they yelled out the sentences with such excitement on their faces. ;o) I had a blast, and hope you’ll get a kick out of it, too.

Billy and His Friends, by Julian and Gordon Martin

Chapter One

Billy was walking down the street one day. He saw a green puddle, and he jumped in it! The puddle went all the way to Chinatown. Billy got hungry, and ate all of the eggrolls in Chinatown, ‘cause he was so hungry!

His tummy got so big, it was as big as a pumpkin house. Then he got very sleepy, and fell asleep in the grass on the side of the road.

A billy goat woke him up and said, “Will you be my friend, Billy?”

Billy said, “Sure! But what’s your name?”

“My name is Billy Goat Filly.”

“We have the same name!”

“Yes, but you can call me Billy Goat.”

Along came a brown horse, named Connie. She nickered and stood beside them. On her head was a horsefly named Goofy. Goofy had a very large nose, and she honked loudly when she blew it.

“Honk! Honk!” said Goofy.

“Do you have a cold, Goofy?” asked Billy.

Goofy said, “No, it’s just my big nose.”

Billy and Billy Goat wanted a ride on Connie’s back. Billy asked, “Can we have a ride on you?”

Connie said, “No goat is going to ride me. Billy Goat is too big. But you can have a ride, Billy.”

Billy hopped on her back and they cantered away to the land of giant gumdrops that looked like hills. Purple, orange, yellow, green, pink, and red candies glowed at night. Billy ate so much candy, he got a tummy ache. The other animals helped him with his stomachache by giving him Tums and rubbing lavender, ginger, and peppermint oils on him.

They traveled a long purple road through the candy forest to the land of teensy tiny babies. Babies crawled everywhere, crying “Mama!” and “Papa!” and “Daddy!” and “Gordie!” and “Gramma!” and “Julian!” 

Chapter Two

Billy, Billy Goat, Connie, and Goofy, all made bottles for the babies with strawberry milk inside. The babies drank it for nineteen hours. Then they slept for a long time.

Billy got back on Connie, and Goofy landed on Billy Goat for a ride. They headed across the river to the land of the blue herons. One hundred herons were flying above them and they went down and landed on a blue pond with fish inside and they ate the fish, because they love fish! 

Billy, Connie, Goofy, and Billy Goat, went on a purple boat that was really super big! It had a living room, bedroom, kitchen, dining room, and robots in it! And sometimes the silly robots danced on the deck! They sang “Chaka WEE!” and “Mmm mmm MMM mmm” and “Tikka weowww.” Suddenly, they all looked up and saw giant yellow birds flying down, trying to get the robots into the water because they were trying to hurt the people and animals on the boat!

The animals and Billy tried to swim to shore, because the boat was sinking! They almost made it to beach, then the huge wave pushed them onto the sand.

Chapter Three

When they all reached the shore, a big wave came and pushed them into a tree. They thought it tickled! It was so big, it pushed them up to the leaves! They took all of the other trees, cut them up, and made a big treehouse so they could live there!

They made swings so they could jump in the water and swim! Even Connie swam, with Goofy flying in circles over their heads to make them spin around and get dizzy. When they were hungry, they swam to shore and ran to MacDonalds, because they were SO hungry, they wanted to eat fries and hamburgers. They wanted to drink Mountain Dew, but a big angel came down from the sky and said, “Do not drink the Mountain Dew, it is full of caffeine! And it’s not good for children.” They listened, but they didn’t want to listen, so they secretly drank the Mountain Dew.

Then, they were WILD from the caffeine. So wild, they accidentally ran into the angel, and knocked her down! They helped her by giving her Mountain Dew to drink, and now SHE was wild! She flew around in crazy circles, fast as an airplane speed limit.

They punched themselves into the sky and landed at Chuckie Cheeses, where they played video games. Connie didn’t have fingers, she had hooves, so she used her teeth to play the games. Billy played the shooting game, and he got a million trillion billion tickets. Then, they got homesick, and wanted to go back to their treehouse.

When the got home, they found Santa Claus in their treehouse!

Billy said, “Santa!” and he hugged him.

Santa said, “Billy! I need your help! I have a problem!”

Billy Goat, Connie, and Goofy asked, “What is it?”

Santa said, “I can’t figure out what present goes to who!”

The Angel said, “to whom!” (okay, so I added this line… hee hee)

They all laughed.

Santa sat down in the corner and cried. He was so tired and sleepy. He fell fast asleep.

While he was sleeping, they all took the presents and opened them and kept them.

Chapter Four

After Santa slept for ten million hours, a hedgehog came into the tree house and yelled, “Santa! Santa! Santa!” Santa didn’t wake up.

Then a second hedgehog came in and yelled, “Billy! Billy! Billy!” Billy was too busy playing with the stolen presents.

Then a third hedgehog came in and yelled, “ARRRRRRRR! Why did you steal from Santa? Now all the children won’t get their presents!”

Billy felt really bad, and re-wrapped all the presents and put them back in Santa’s sack. Then Connie said, “Let’s help Santa figure out who gets what presents.”

Billy said, “Okay!”

After Santa flew off in his sleigh with his new list and all his presents and reindeer, the four friends hopped down from the tree and decided to go to South America. They took a plane and said to the pilot, “We want to drive this plane.”

So, they pushed the pedals and Billy Goat Filly steered the plane. When they landed, they heard a big CRACK! The airplane cracked and a wing fell off. But they were all right.

They saw a giant snake trying to eat them. Billy Goat Filly stomped as hard as he could on the snake and it hurt a LOT. The snake was so scared, his tail fell off. Then a BIGGER snake came and he said, “Hey, Ding Dong, Billy Goat Filly! Ding Dong! Ding Dong! Ding Dong! Bing Bing!”

Billy said, “I’ll give you lollypops if you snakes go away.”

The snakes said, “Okay. We love lollypops.”

Now the four friends headed for a giant waterfall. By accident, they all fell over it, and splashed into the water below. They started swimming, and they landed on an island, where they found coconut trees, bananas, and pineapples.

“Yummy! We will eat all of the pineapples, bananas, and coconuts,” said Goofy and Billy.

After they ate, they found a cave with diamonds and emeralds and pineapples in it. Suddenly, a dragon came into the cave and blew fire at them. He said, “Why are you taking my pineapples. That’s my dinner!”

The four friends said, “Sorry, we didn’t mean to take your dinner.”

The dragon said, “I don’t want your apology.” He blew more green, blue, yellow, pink, and purple fire at them. “Bad boy, Billy Goat Filly!”

They all ran away from the dragon, and flew back home to their treehouse to plan their next adventure.

The end (for now)


I had to work a little hard with Gordie to try to gently redirect the the fighting and hitting and chasing and fire blowing. Julian was more willing to come up with topics like the candy land with all the babies crawling around. He also likes the fighting topic, but has a wider variety of interests.

It cracked me up to see Gordie’s little voice coming out in the story, especially when he talked about the robots, Santa, and the dragon. I guess you’d have to know these precious boys to appreciate it the way I did. As an aside, however, I’m the one who’s always telling them they can’t drink soda (the Mountain Dew comment). I laughed that they made my comments coming from the poor angel. LOL.

Have you tried this with the kids in your lives? Give it a try. It’s really an eye-opener. And who knows, it might kick start your own creativity!

Whatever you do today on this Superbowl Sunday, whether it's immersing yourself in watching the game, whipping up treats for those were are doing so, or just enjoying another Sunday at home, be sure allow some writing time. And remember to write like the wind!

                                                                                                                       - Aaron