Sunday, March 21, 2010

Relentless, by Dean Koontz

Once again, I’ve come face to face, or nose to page as the case may be, with “the master.” An entire year of reading other authors’ books has deprived me of this thrill, this high, this bow-down-to-the-best-writer-on-earth sensation. I’ve missed it. Frankly, it’s been so long, I didn’t even remember how much I missed it!

This week, I had the intense pleasure of reading Relentless by Dean Koontz. Blazed through it in two sittings. Glued to the pages, mesmerized by the story and the writing, I whipped through the chapters with eyes wide open and heart pounding.

As fast as I read, I also stopped to savor every witty conversation. I lusted after each poetic passage. I marveled at his ability to keep me hanging off the cliff for the whole damned story. And of course, I underlined a hundred passages.

Reading this type of book is how I learned to write, how I continue to hunger for his level of craftsmanship, how I push myself harder and harder.

Damn, he’s good.

“The lead-gray sky of the previous afternoon, which had looked as flat and uniform as a freshly painted surface, was deteriorating. Curls of clouds peeled back, revealing darker masses, and beards of mist hung like tattered cobwebs from a crumbling ceiling.”

“Curls of clouds?” I LOVE that. “Beards of mist?” Divine. How many times have I described the sky or mist in my books? Dozens upon dozens. But my brain never came up with “curls of clouds.”

Here’s another genius passage, once again describing the sky.

“High in the steadily blackening sky, a silent convulsion broke the string in an infinite necklace, and fat pearls fell through the day, bouncing on the slate patio, dimpling the water in the harbor, rattling the gulls off the seawall to sheltered roosts.”

Sigh. See what I mean? “Fat pearls fell through the day.” “Rattling the gulls off the seawall.” Magic. Genius. Sheer beauty.

Of course, Koontz’s rising and plummeting, rocking and rolling, constant fast heartbeat action is renowned. Even more so here, with shocking, luscious secrets unveiled partway through the story about a writer who gets a really bad review by a reviewer-turned-psycho. It escalates so fast from there, my head spun for the rest of the thrill ride.

Koontz is also a master at dialog. He’s just about the best I’ve ever read, and I particularly love his page long passages of dialog that contain not one tag or beat. Just quotes. Clear. Concise. Never a doubt who’s talking. That’s Koontz.

Of course, his sense of humor slays me. Check out this description of a very huge man.

“As usual, he wore a vibrant Hawaiian shirt, khaki pants, and sneakers. The shirt presented an acre of lush palm trees silhouetted against a sunset; and one of his shoes could have carried the baby Moses down the river more safely than an ark full of bulrushes.”

More than once I laughed out loud, waking up my poor wife who was trying to sleep. (Sorry, hon! Don’t blame me. Blame Dean Koontz!)

As writers, we need this kind of literary shaking up as often as possible. As readers, we deserve this kind of a treat. Now I’m on to my next Koontz book–The Longest Night of the Year. I can’t wait!

If you read one book this week, treat yourself to Relentless. I guarantee it will stir up your creative juices and take you on a virtual thrill ride that will knock your socks off.


Aaron Paul Lazar wasn’t always a mystery writer. It wasn’t until eight members of his 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.”

Lazar created the Gus LeGarde mystery series, with the founding novel, DOUBLE FORTÉ (2004), a chilling winter mystery set in the Genesee Valley of upstate New York. Like Lazar’s 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 21stcentury.”

The creation of the series lent Lazar the comfort he sought, yet in the process, a new passion was unleashed. Obsessed with his parallel universe, he now lives, breathes, and dreams about his characters, and has written ten LeGarde mysteries in eight years. (UPSTAGED – 2005; TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON – 2007 Twilight Times Books; MAZURKA – 2009 Twilight Times Books, FIRESONG – 2010; with more to come.)

One day while rototilling his gardens, Lazar unearthed a green cat’s eye marble, which prompted the new paranormal mystery series featuring Sam Moore, retired country doctor and zealous gardener. The green marble, a powerful talisman, connects all three of the books in the series, whisking Sam back in time to uncover his brother’s dreadful fate fifty years earlier. (HEALEY’S CAVE: A GREEN MARBLE MYSTERY, 2010; ONE POTATO, BLUE POTATO, 2011; FOR KEEPS, 2012) Lazar intends to continue both series.

Lazar’s books feature breathless chase scenes, nasty villains, and taut suspense, but are also intensely human stories, replete with kids, dogs, horses, food, romance, and humor. The author calls them, “country mysteries,” although reviewers have dubbed them “literary mysteries.”

“It seems as though every image ever impressed upon my brain finds its way into my work. Whether it’s the light dancing through stained-glass windows in a Parisian chapel, curly slate-green lichencovering a boulder at the edge of a pond in Maine, or hoarfrost dangling from a cherry tree branch in mid-winter, these images burrow into my memory cells. In time they bubble back, persistently itching, until they are poured out on the page.”

The author lives on a ridge overlooking the Genesee Valley in upstate New York with his wife, daughter, three grandchildren, mother-in-law, three dogs, and cat. Although recent empty nesters, he and his wife just finished fixing up their 1811 antique home when the kids moved home. Again.

Lazar maintains several websites and blogs, was the Gather Saturday Writing Essential host from 2006-2008, writes his monthly “Seedlings” columns for the Voice in the Dark literary journal and the Future Mystery Anthology Magazine. He has been published in Absolute Write as well as The Great Mystery and Suspense Magazine. See excerpts and reviews here:

Contact him at

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

copyright aaron paul lazar, 2010

Most of us correspond daily with email. When you take a moment to slow down and examine your email, you may realize you write and receive dozens per day. Some days it’s more, but if we go away for a week or get caught up in life away from the Internet for a while, we’re often buried.

Sound familiar?

How long has it been since you wrote a real live honest to goodness paper letter? On stationary, for that matter? I hadn’t even sent Christmas cards in eons, since life got crazy and I could quickly dash off an e-card or a few lines of Christmas cheer with a bright email. So much simpler, right?

Email became so convenient that we all sneered at snail mail and used to roll our eyes when some venture required us to actually print out a letter and affix a (way too expensive) stamp to it.

But since I got my new wireless printer, packs of fancy paper and envelopes, and started applying for colleges and new agents all at the same time, I got into the groove of typing out envelopes (I never could figure out how to do that until now, LOL!) and letters on nice stationary. Damn, they look so good on that pale blue fancy parchment paper.

Strangely enough, I found the exercise pleasant. There was something satisfying about licking the stamp and putting it in the mailbox. I started to wonder if I was regressing to my youth, because I used to correspond with people all the time. When I left home to move to the Finger Lakes region of New York, I wrote long newsy letters to my grandparents back on the east coast. I’d enclose snapshots (another thing I haven’t ordered in ages! Must do that!) and enjoyed the process of sitting out under a big old maple tree during my lunch breaks at work, and penning many pages about our triumphs and traumas. My handwriting has gone to hell in a hand basket since then, probably because I don’t practice any more. It used to be quite elegant, something like the Renaissance man I’m supposed to be should have in his arsenal of skills. You know, drawing, piano, gardening, photography, poetry, and nice handwriting. Ha.

Since I’ve had a little more time on my hands this year (in starts and spurts), I’ve taken the time to print out well crafted letters to friends I haven’t seen in ages to reconnect with them. My ex-boss from Kodak, a fellow writer who’s in the hospital, my old pal from college… it felt good to create a letter you can touch and feel and save in a drawer. Know what I mean?

When people send me thank you cards – something that’s really almost a lost art, I think – I feel so special! After a library event or book club appearance, I’ve often received these colorful notes from my readers. You know what? It feels great.

I wonder, have you taken the time to pen a handwritten note lately?

Do you notice how much more casual we are in our emails compared to when we type them to print out or write them longhand? We’ve gotten more and more lax in our grammar, punctuation, and now the shortcuts are so common that even in this article I’ve used “LOL”, because I think there are just a handful of people out there who don’t know it means Laughing Out Loud. It’s so engrained now, I sometimes find myself tempted to use it in my writing, which is absurd, of course.

If you can find a spare moment this weekend, go dig up some of your old cards or stationary, and pen a thoughtful note to someone you’ve let drift out of your life. It’ll make you feel real good. And I’ll bet it will make your friend feel even better.


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 watch for his upcoming release, HEALEY’S CAVE, coming in 2010.

Copyright aaron paul lazar 2010, all rights reserved

Dear Daughter,

I don’t mean to do it. It’s not like I use beef-flavored deodorant or hide doggie treats under my mattress. Nor do I blow the silent whistle every night to get them to pile onto my bed. They just want to sleep with me. All three of them.

I don’t call them upstairs. I don’t pat the mattress and make kissy noises. In fact, I hope they decide to stay with you, dear daughter, instead of me, because all night long I’m pinned beneath furry masses, desperately trying to find a spot for my knees and feet.

It’s been like this since you moved home. And I wish it was different!

I wake up ten times during the week with sore shoulders and hips, needing to flip. Amber lays like a lump on my feet, not next to them, her fifteen pounds feels like fifty. Balto curls beside me, his spine pushing me sideways so that I have about ten inches of mattress. And little Domino hops from side to side each time I turn, jumping into the cave of my knees with the alacrity of a circus dog.

I try to move Amber from my legs – she doesn’t budge. I have to gently pick her up and slide her lumpy little body sideways. Quickly, very quickly, I need to move and reposition, but usually she finds the spot before me and I need to either give in or move her again.

It’s not the ideal sleeping condition, for sure. Okay, so they keep me warm on really cold nights. But for me, they’re all Three Dog Nights, whether it’s frigid February or sweltering summer.

Anyway, dear daughter, sorry about being the dog stealer. It sure wasn’t intentional. Until we can convince the dogs otherwise, I think I need a bigger bed.


Note: Photo above is my grandson Julian with Balto when he was a pup - love this picture and couldn't resist using it. ;o) 

Anthropomorphism (and writing in my sleep)

copyright aaron paul lazar, 2010. All rights reserved.

In the past, I’ve almost always written from the point of view of a human. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book from a dog’s POV a few years ago, and even wrote a few fun chapters. It’s on the “some day” list, like my Gus LeGarde cookbook, and a Finger Lakes coffee table book.
About a month ago, a good friend (Pat Fowler, from NH) invited me to enter the Lorian Hemingway short story writing contest. We’d both write short stories, and then critique each other’s work before subbing them. In my story, I ended up doing one scene from Claude Monet’s dog’s point of view.  
Last week, I read a very original sci fi story by Pat Whitaker from New Zealand, entitled Returning. In the beginning, a being from outer space inhabits the body of a wolf. It’s not exactly anthropomorphism, because the creature is using the wolf as a host, so it’s not attributing human characteristics to the canine. But it must have gotten my creative juices going, because the other night I wrote the following story while sleeping.
Honest! It’s weird, but during the night I find myself writing in my head. I set up the scene, and the words come out as if I’m typing them. It’s never exactly what becomes the final typed version, but it’s pretty close.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about anthropomorphism:

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivation able to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos), "human" and μορφή (morphē), "shape" or "form".

And here’s the story I wrote the other night. ;o)

The Bull
He rose with ease from his desk chair and reached for a crystal tumbler on the counter. Filling it with ice, he poured amber liquid halfway up and took a swig. His sleek black fur shone beneath the vested suit, and a vein throbbed in his neck above his lavender shirt collar. 
Lowering his horns for effect, he swung his heavy head back toward the man tied to the chair on the other side of his desk.
The matador’s face flamed brick red. Tears simmered in his eyes. He struggled against his bonds, and almost tipped over his chair. “I don’t get it!”
With a rumbling sigh, the bull lowered himself back into the chair. “I know. This part is often difficult.” He wiggled the thumb-like appendage that protruded from his hoof and winked. “In your experience, bulls don’t have thumbs. But let me tell you, it’s much easier to mix a drink this way.”
Tears sprang from the matador’s eyes. “That’s not what I meant! Why are you doing this?”
An expression of sympathy curled the bull’s lips downward. “Oh, dear. I’m sorry. As I said before, you are an experimental subject. The power of your species to torture and maim, the joy you take in killing, the need to show yourself more powerful than other creatures… it’s long fascinated us.”
“Where’s my family? My boys?” Almost whimpering now, the matador’s eyes churned side to side. “And where the hell am I?”
“I’ve told you. There are no boys. There is no wife. Your life was orchestrated to seem real, in your own head. But sir–you exist simply for the purpose of academic study.”
“But the world is run by humans!”
“No. It’s run by bulls.”
“But on television—”
“All manufactured for the experiment. Shall I turn on the real television?”
With a click, the teak walls parted, revealing a flat screen. The bull flipped through channels, each filled with horned heads, wide flat noses—sans rings—and various colors and sizes of huge, hoofed, mammoth bulls. Bulls dressed in clothing, bulls golfing, bulls driving trucks. Bulls everywhere.
A hilarious giggle rose from the matador. “I get it! This is a practical joke! You’re wearing a costume. You staged the whole thing.” He craned his neck around the room. “Okay, José.   Come on out! I fell for it!”
The bull grimaced. “In spite of your capacity for inflicting pain on others, you are most decidedly a fascinating species.”
The matador slumped, then sat up with interest. “Wait! Are there more like me?”
Lighting a fat cigar, the bull tipped back in his chair. “A few.”
Another click on the remote parted wide curtains, revealing a large stadium. “Down there. In the cages.”
“That’s cruel!”
“Perhaps. But it’s safer for bullkind. You don’t think we can let savages like you just wander around, do you?”
Defeated, the matador let the tears stream from his formerly stoic face. The sequins on his costume glistened wet. His hat tipped sideways. “You mean my career? The accolades I’ve earned? My entire life?” Sobbing now, his head dropped to his chest. He raised it once again. “It’s all fake?”
“Indeed. The glory you found in your…er…career was fabricated. You thought you defeated and killed bulls. You reveled in it. But it was all staged. No real bulls were hurt.” The bull spun his chair to stare down into the arena, tenting his forehooves. “But don’t worry. We’ll treat you with kindness. You’ll have food and water, exercise, and sunshine. And we’ll get you vaccinated. After all, we aren’t barbarians. We’re not human.”


Aaron Paul Lazar