Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review for Black Cow by Magdalena Ball


Author: Magdalena Ball

Publisher: BeWrite

Genre: Literary Fiction, 290 pages

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-927086-46-9

EPUB eBook ISBN: 978-1-927086-47-6

MOBI eBook ISBN: 978-1-927086-48-3

PDF eBook ISBN: 978-1-927086-49-0

Price: $14.01

Publisher website address:

Author’s personal website:

Reading a book by Magdalena Ball is a wonderfully peculiar experience. One moment, you’re sitting innocently in your chair with your Kindle, and the next minute you are whisked inside the brains and bodies of her characters, intimately connected with their soaring spirits or their angst.

I’ve read Ms. Ball’s books before, and have been enthralled by them. SLEEP BEFORE EVENING was the first novel I read, and I was absorbed by the well-told story. I’ve read her poetry, and been impressed with the way she weaves love and science and the wonder of the universe into her work without sounding pretentious or sappy.

BLACK COW, her new release, is a literary novel that breaks through to new levels, immersing her readers into the lives of an Australian family in very serious trouble. The problems don’t show on the outside, but they’re deeply ingrained in the fabric of the family, in their souls, and in their hearts. The metamorphosis of this very authentic family hurts, is hard-earned, and will make you beg for resolution.

It’s not an unpleasant experience—on the contrary—but it feels so real that the reader will absorb Ms. Ball’s characters’ pain like litmus paper soaks up water. I literally had to put the book down and stop for a while, because the stress James and Freya experienced in their intensely acquisitive world felt so uncomfortable that I thought my own blood pressure was spiking.

I ached for them to stop the madness, to look at each other and help each other, and to start thinking about what matters most in life.

Not only do husband and wife James and Freya, or their children Cameron and Dylan jump off the pages, but their inner thoughts and dialogue ring true. Written in third person POV, the reader moves effortlessly from mother to father, to anorexic daughter to the love-starved son. It feels natural and not forced, which is often a hard situation for 3rd person writers to avoid. See this segment from the daughter’s point of view just after her grandmother passed:

Cameron began to cry, so silently that it was almost not a cry at all, just falling rain on three generations of women through the memories of past, the unreliability of the present and the non-existent future. In the cooling entropy of now, she felt a deep connection with the woman who appeared on the page before her, and then jerked her head up, shocked by the snapping of the string. It was as if a helix had unwound inside her. Suddenly the room seemed intensely empty and looking at the picture, Cameron knew that her grandmother was dead.

What resonated most with me were the epic truths behind the story. I often lament today’s society where kids rarely play outdoors just for fun, where their lives are over-organized with everyone hurrying from one activity to another, where every room in the house has a television/DVD player and/or cable box, where each parent has a nice new car, where even children have iPods or iPhones or iPads, where families go on lavish vacations, where shopping is forever for new items (God forbid people are seen near a Salvation Army or Goodwill store, where so many good deals are to be had!), where meals are mostly takeout or quick-fix versions because both parents have to work to help pay for all the prior junk, and where there are few if any slow-cooked meals in anyone’s lives…

What happened to one parent being home, making real mashed potatoes, cooking banana bread, or simmering a stew all day long? What happened to the freedom of coming home from school, getting hugs from mom or dad, finishing up homework, and running outside to simply play? What happened to picking up a stick to sword fight, to digging in big piles of dirt, to jumping in mile-high mountains of leaves?

What happened was people wanting too much stuff, like Freya’s family in BLACK COW. What happened was the stuff growing and building to such an insane level that both parents “have” to work to sustain it.

This vicious cycle is intimately depicted in BLACK COW, and as much as I already fervently believed in living life naturally, simply, making family count first, and being one with nature, this book made me savor it more, made me examine my life even closer, and made me grateful for the decisions we’ve made as a family.

Being a father myself, and having spent 28 years in corporate America, I related to James’ pain. The stress involved in nonsensical, impossible corporate goal setting, the day-to-day grind through traffic and with people who aren’t even close to being friends, really drove home and made me grateful I had personally escaped that life and now work for a small company where the work that gets done actually makes sense! See this insightful passage from James’ viewpoint:

You keep moving like a shark through the ocean so you didn’t die by standing still. But that was a mistake. People didn’t die by standing still. Reflection wasn’t deadly. They wouldn’t die from taking time away from the grind, even

if none of them turned on their phones, though there was Cameron texting, even as she was walking towards the plane. It was the motion that would kill them. What was deadly was the running and gathering and shoving to get in front. He leaned towards Cameron: “Turn off the phone.”

When the story pivots after several devastating problems rise to a head, and James can take it no more, the family moves to a breathtakingly gorgeous farm in Tasmania, a long-time dream that Freya has harbored and tried to promote. James quits his job, Freya leaves her real estate sales position, and the kids are uprooted from their private school with the hope that they can run this cow farm, raise their own vegetables, create their own electricity, capture their own rain water, and manage it all with little or no experience.

The process is not easy, there is no magical solution or healing of all ills, but little by little, they pull together. The move to Tasmania was my favorite segment of BLACK COW, and I savored each page. I lusted after the land with Freya, ached to run my fingers over the black cows’ furry necks with James, felt the family’s pains when they weeded carrots, and reveled in the fresh air and gorgeous scenery. Although we live on three acres in the country and grow big gardens, our days of tending livestock are over. But now I want that farm. Badly.

Magdalena Ball writes with insightful realism, but there is beauty and passion and hope woven into the words, as well. See this segment where Freya’s vision is starting to come clear:

The sweater was a vibrant heathery pink, white and green, with bands of snowflakes, crosses and circles. It was more than beautiful. Freya couldn’t stop touching the wool, which was both soft and tough. It was fibrous, textured, and yet still smooth. Jane and her partner were trying to make a living from their unique wool, and there was interest from the mainland. They only lived five kilometres in the opposite direction to Hobart. Though Freya’s own knitting was still a far cry from perfect, somehow the beautiful yarn, Jane’s tips, and those clicking needles were unknitting the muscles in her body and she felt herself relaxing into a kind of half-trance. She couldn’t quite hear Jane’s words as she smiled and kept on with her stitches. Something was becoming clear to her instead. Her life was like this sweater, and she could knit in whatever colours, textures, and emotions she wanted. No matter what, she was the creator of her life, and she could make it glorious or dull, beautiful or flat. It was hers to create.

Her children and husband might be inspired or hindered by her, but they had their own lives to knit.

BLACK COW is an intelligent, deeply reflective story of a family who reaches its deepest lows, then transcends the expected norm to reconnect with the earth and each other in a joyful, satisfying adventure.

Highly recommended by Aaron Paul Lazar.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

For Writers: Blogging - What's the big deal?

aaron paul lazar, copyright, 2012

The Beginning

I'd just finished my sixth book in May of 2005, when I was approached by Bob Burdick to create a piece for his book-lovers' website. "Just tell us about your writer's life, how you manage to work and write at the same time. Tell us about the person you are, and how it all fits together."

I'd never really written much more than fiction, emails, and tech reports at work. And I wasn't sure how to begin. So, as I normally do, I just started writing.

I think back to that day as the unleashing of a whole different type of writing. This was personal, easy-to-read, and fun writing. Sort of like emailing one of my fans, or speaking one-on-one to a newbie writer who approached me for advice at a book signing.

At the time, I didn't think of it as blogging, per se. I didn't really know what a blog
was back then. So I called the torrent of mini-essays that ensued "Seedlings" columns. I thought of them as "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."

A Blog by Any Other Name...

Since 2005, I've written over a hundred and fifty articles. These pieces range from 500 to 1500 words, and cover topics like writing tips and advice, a writer's life, book reviews, promotional tips, slices of life, etc. I keep a spreadsheet that lets me track where and when I've posted or guest-posted, and the list, in itself, has grown dramatically. 

Writers need to establish personal blogs to help promote their work, network with readers and writers, and to provide a home for their articles. But that's not really enough, these days. It's also good to get on a regularly published list of literary journals, group blogs, social media sites, etc. if you can. For example, my short pieces go up monthly at sites like the Future Mystery Anthology Magazine, and The Voice in the Dark Literary Journal.

I also post weekly on my collaborative blog,  Murderby4. Every Sunday, I write my piece then post it here on my personal blog, too, and copy it over to one of my favorite social media sites, Often I'll have the energy to do the same at some of the .ning groups, like The Book Marketing Network, or Book Blogs. There are other sites I used to frequent such as,, etc. Lately I've had a hard time keeping up with all their requirements about so many allowed links per article, etc., so I've sort of slowed down there. But they're all good, and I'm sure you can find your own assortment of places to post your blog pieces in addition to your personal writer's blog. The message here is to take advantage of the time you spend on these articles, and post them all over the place to get more coverage.

From each of the postings, I then tweet the article by simply clicking on the small Twitter icon at the end of each piece. I add key words to the canned pretweet, and often add "Plz RT", which signals my pals on Twitter to retweet the link to their followers. In order not to overwhelm my friends on facebook, I generally post a link to that site just once, linking to Gather, where many folks add their comments and their own observations about the topic of the day. 

I also keep a list of subjects I want to write about so I don't run out of ideas. Don't get me wrong - sometimes I come up empty-handed. It's hard to have a column ready every week, never mind while keeping up with the current WIP. I don't know how those newspaper columnists do it!

Why Blog? (I Just Wanna Write!)

Why do we do this? What's the benefit? And how can we justify taking time away from our "real" writing to do these short little blogs?

First of all, it's about connecting with people; connecting on a deep down, personal level. If you can relate to your readers, they might wander over to see what else you've written. Perhaps they'll check out your books. And maybe even buy some! More often than not, however, you'll find the benefit of blogging is a gateway to meeting wonderful people who often are in your boat. These writers may have their own blogs, may be looking for guest posts, just like you. Little by little, by sharing, networking, and helping each other, you can all gain more exposure to readers and blog followers by holding hands and posting each other's pieces. There's a lot of synergy in that model. And eventually, assuming your books are good, you'll start to grow a nice audience for your work.

Giving Back

Of course, you also want to offer something of value to your followers. In addition to hopefully entertaining them, giving them a bit of a laugh from time to time, and offering the benefit of your own observations and experience, you want to help them on their own journey. Be open to newbie writers who have never written a blog in their life. Offer to showcase their new book. Ask folks whose books you've read to guest blog for you. You'll be surprised at how many of the best selling authors actually respond and appreciate the option of reposting their blogs on your site. Always be willing to pay it forward, and offer freebies off and on like contests where folks can win a copy of your eBook(s) or print books. You can host other author's giveaways--that's always a treat for readers--but be sure you don't make the conditions for winning too hard. That never works. Usually I just ask someone to comment on the article to be eligible to win. Simple and effective!

The Rules of the Game

My version of blogging doesn't necessarily meet all the "rule of thumb" advice that I'd stumbled on over the past seven years. I've sometimes read that blogs should be "short and sweet", that you should blog every day, and that if you write something longer than 500 words, people lose interest. I'm not so sure about all that.

So, I don't follow those rules, and in the course of letting myself navigate through this mire with my own instincts, I've managed to create a pretty decent platform. The last time I googled my name, I got over 4,000 hits, mostly from the articles I've written. I've tried to help writers by sharing advice and tips, and have connected on a deep level with so many wonderful folks, not limited to writers or readers. It's been a good run, and I'm grateful for all the folks I've met through this process.

How to Get Started  

Don't let all this scare you if you haven't ever blogged or are just about to release your first novel. It's a growing and learning process that comes with time. 

Start with your own blog. Gather up your book cover images, a headshot if you like, and links you might like to add to the side bar. If you already have books to sell, sign up for Amazon Associates and get your product links. You can also create mini-slideshows where you feature your own book covers, and it's really easy to copy the code onto your own blog sidebar. 

Blogs are fairly easy and intuitive to create, using a platform like Blogger or WordPress. Usually it's all free, too. 

Once you have your template in place with photos and links, etc., then it's time to write something! There's no wrong topic with which to begin. Talk about yourself a little, if you wish. Pick a subject you're wondering about in the literary world. Or offer a chapter from your book(s). (tip - make sure you have your publisher's approval before you publish more than a blurb from your own work - check your book contract.) 

How to Get Followers

Some blogs go a long time without any official followers. And that's okay. You can check your stats to see how many hits you've had. Just keep writing, check out other blogs, and comment/follow them if they suit your interests. Then you can invite folks back to read your blog, and the whole process begins!

Final Caution

It's really easy to get so caught up in the promotion of your work that your free writing time for your WIP almost disappears. Try to get on a schedule. You need to balance this aspect of your marketing plan with the time to actually create more products to market! It's a real challenge. 

Hmm. Maybe my next blog will be about how to achieve that balance...

Best wishes and good luck to all, and remember to write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Book Review for PRIVATE LIES by Warren Adler (review by Aaron)

Hi, folks!

Here's hoping your week has gone well. This year I'm giving myself the gift of working through a favorite author's books. While traveling last week, I was able to completely submerge myself in this wonderful novel by our esteemed colleague and bestselling writer, Mr. Warren Adler. Following is my review - enjoy!

Aaron Lazar
Title:  Private Lies
Author: Warren Adler
Publisher: Stonehouse Press (2004)
Genre: Suspense/Drama
Paperback: 344 pages
ISBN-10: 1931304653
ISBN-13: 978-1931304658
Price: Kindle eBook: $2.99; Paperback: $19.95
Publisher website address:

PRIVATE LIES is a mesmerizing read, starting with the powerful voice of Ken Kramer in the opening pages. I’m not going to provide a detailed plot summary, other than to say that this novel is a commanding glimpse into the minds of four very distinct characters. Mr. Adler rotates between these points of view, from a dispirited writer who has lost his dream and now settles for a job writing ads (Ken), to his long ago ballerina lover with whom he parted ways twenty years earlier and who he now runs into by a pure twist of fate (Carol), to his loving and enthusiastic wife, a virtual “earth mother,” who has organized his life and bore him two children (Maggie), to the final corner of this very odd rhombus, a self-engrossed, gourmand who’s always touting his latest “cause” and who can talk the best dinner partners under the table (Eliot).

One is immediately plunged into mystery and suspense when the story opens with a chance meeting between Ken, his wife Maggie, her new client Eliot, and his spouse, Carol. Ken knows she’s Carol—his past lover—yet she doesn’t acknowledge him. Not a glance, no eye contact, no conversation. Ken spends the whole evening wonder if this ethereal, swan-necked, divine creature is really the woman with whom he spent months of hot passion two decades ago. He’s positive it’s her; but why does she pretend not to know him?

Little by little, delicious secrets are unveiled. We discover Carol’s past, which I won’t divulge here, and finally get a peak into her mind.

I expected the story would stay in New York, set in apartments and coffee shops and restaurants, when suddenly the plot twists and we are airlifted to Africa!

The contrast between the scenes in the dark, dirty city to Africa are vibrantly divergent. Africa—land of the parching sun, torrential downpours, rare danger, and raw resplendent beauty—invades the minds of the quartet by unleashing inner urges, some not so pretty. The land influences and entices, invades sensible thoughts and tempts all four to go where they hadn’t dared before.

If it seems like I’m being cryptic here, I am. I don’t want to spoil the plot.

There are several twists in this story that made me stand up and applaud. Well done, Mr. Adler! It was these twists that grabbed my attention and made me love the book even more. As they should, secrets are unveiled and the plot runs wild with surprises coming in more frequent waves toward the end. Most satisfying.

I would recommend this book for adults only, particularly those who aren’t shy about reading delicately described sexual encounters. These tastefully drawn passages of great passion were evocative and sensual, adding to the texture of this finely woven literary tapestry. As in THE DAVID EMBRACE, Mr. Adler writes voluptuous and fiery passages when it comes to passion in the bedroom, or in the mind.

I’ve heard that PRIVATE LIES was up for a movie, and that was one of my first thoughts when I finished it. “What a great movie PRIVATE LIES would make!” I do hope that Hollywood grabs hold of this one and runs with it.

I highly recommend PRIVATE LIES for the thinking man or woman, and for those who enjoy diabolical, twisty plots and lush scenery.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Meet Ruby!

Happy Sunday!

Have you ever done a character interview? 

It can be quite the lark. I've had interviews with my characters Gus LeGarde, Oscar Stone, and Siegfried Marggrander. Today, however, I thought it would be fun to lighten up, and I'm sharing the recent interview done a few weeks ago on Pat Bertram's blog. Ruby's rather full of herself, but I hope you'll get a chuckle out of her answers, anyway. ;o)

Aaron Lazar
copyright 2012, Aaron Paul Lazar

Interview with Ruby, from Tall Pines Mysteries

  1. What is your story? The name of the book with my beautiful picture on it is FOR THE BIRDS, by author Aaron Paul Lazar. It’s about these really nasty guys who were chasing my owners all over the Adirondacks. There were secrets, soooo many secrets. Money. Family. Lies. And more.
  2. Who are you? My name is Ruby. I’m a ring-necked parrot. I own two humans named Quinn and Marcella. They listen pretty well, for people.
  3. Where do you live? My cage is in the living room of my humans’ house on Honeoye Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Sometimes I get to go outside and imagine soaring over the big lake. Love that!
  4. Are you the hero of your own story? Er, of course! That’s why my picture is on the book cover!  Come see it here:
  5. What is your problem in the story? Well, except for my owner’s mother falling into a swimming pool, dragging me after her, and getting electrocuted so that we were both in each others’ minds… not much! Honestly, though, you should have heard the things coming out of my mouth after that. I felt like I was inside Thelma’s head, which was a little creepy.
  6. Do you have a problem that wasn’t mentioned in the story? My mother, Sarafina, died last year. I’ve been pretty depressed about it. Hardly playing with my toys at all.
  7. What are your achievements? Last summer I helped find Marcella’s mother. She was tied to a tree on Blackbird Island and I found her.
  8. Do you have any special strengths? Yes, I can eat more seeds in a minute than any bird I know. Of course, I don’t know any birds, except that cute Blue Boy who was at the bird show. But I beat him out, he only got second place! ;o)
  9. What makes you happy? Cookies! Okay I think that is enough talk about food. I’m making myself hungry. Where is Quinn? Come on, Quinn. Pretty boy! You da man! Feed Ruby!
  10. What are you afraid of? Big dogs. And hawks. I don't like hawks.
  11. What makes you sad? My mom dying.
  12. What, if anything, haunts you? I’m not too fond of that guy, Tiramisu, who tormented us last year. All he wanted was money from the big bank heist that nobody solved in 50 years. He was a real creep.
  13. Have you ever had an adventure? Last year’s adventure at Tall Pines was enough for a lifetime. Whoa. Almost drowning and trying to help Thelma after she was kidnapped – that’s enough for me.
  14. Was there ever a defining moment of your life? When Marcella finally really listened and heard me saying “Blackbird Island!”
  15. What is your most closely guarded secret? I hide seeds under my bed.
  16. What is your favorite scent? I like the smell of the Essential Oils. Why? Because it means Quinn will be happy and play with me. He loves those oils and it helps his obsession with germs.
  17. What is your favorite color? Blue. Why? ‘Cause my heartthrob is blue.
  18. What is your favorite food? Cookies! Need you ask?
  19. If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be? All the other birds in the world could have unclipped wings and fly. Me? I’m happy with Quinn and Marcella. I don’t want to get eaten by a big hawk.
  20. If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you rather be stranded with, a man or a woman? Quinn’s like my dad. I would want him there to climb trees and get me seeds and nuts.

What happens when a parakeet named Ruby gets an unexpected mind-meld with Marcella Hollister’s quarrelsome mother, Thelma? When Thelma’s kidnapped, Marcella must find her - somewhere in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park. Marcella’s perseverance coupled with Ruby’s new talent offer the only hope for rescue, until the shocking truth is revealed.
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, ESSENTIALLY YOURS (MAR 2012), TERROR COMES KNOCKING (FEB 2011), FOR KEEPS (MAY 2012), DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (APRIL 2012), and the author’s preferred editions of DOUBLE FORTÉ (FEB 2012) and UPSTAGED (JUNE 2012).