Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Virtual Book Tour: Promoting Silenced Cry
... and how I did it

After I announced the start of my virtual book tour on July 31, I received numerous e-mails a day from fellow authors who wanted to know how I had organized the tour.

First let me emphasize that the following is based purely on my experience. It is not intended as the perfect model, but simply a list of things that worked for me this time around. Keep in mind that there are several sites available that offer to help authors schedule virtual tours for a fee. However, I found that with a few basic communication skills, a little time, and some careful planning, it is not only doable, it is an inexpensive and fun way to promote your book.

The key word is NETWORK and RELATIONSHIPS, but don’t wait until your book is published to begin building a communication network. I joined my first author forum several years before Silenced Cry was released in April 2007, by BeWrite Books (UK). I've build my network of friends and contacts through membership in about 16-18 sites. These sites represent approximately 15,431 members and potential readers. The number of readers increases when I add in the number of people who visit my website, my pages in Myspace, Gather, Squidoo, Amazon, and other such sites. Also not included in that figure are the friends and family on my mailing list.

Join diverse groups that provide different focuses such as some general author forums where anything having to do with writing can and is discussed. Other groups may have a membership with focused interest on your preferred genre, while yet others may have be places where members discuss marketing, agents, and publishing.

Several people have asked me how I find time to stay current with the various posts and keep up with my writing. Getting involved within those networks doesn't mean you have to devote hours a day to each one, but do make yourself known to others. Get involved in the conversations that are of interest to you and ones that you can contribute to. Think of how many people you know and come in contact with every day. Each member in these sites probably knows as many or possibly more people than you do. Get to know them. Pay attention to what is being discussed and follow the links they mentioned. You never know where they may lead you. If a certain link is not to your liking, go on to the next one.

Get Ready:
So, the day of your book launch has come and gone and now you feel it’s time to beef up your promotions. Great! Roll up your sleeves and prepare to work for several weeks on nothing but your virtual book tour.

Step 1:
I wrote a basic announcement and customized it to fit each site based on their criteria for self-promotion. Beware, there are author sites frown on self-promotion. Make the announcement short, sweet, and to the point. Mention that you are making plans for a virtual book tour (give the dates) and indicate that you would like to know if anyone would be willing to sponsor you on their website or blog. Don’t be afraid to ask. Virtual book tours are a win/win situation—more on this in a minute.

Step 2:
Within hours of my announcement I began to receive e-mails from some of my contacts with an “I’d love to sponsor you—please send...”

Remember, everything about the tour is entirely your responsibility.
1. Study the sites of those who have invited you to be a guest writer. Read what others have posted to those sites. What can you write about yourself, your book, your characters, etc., that will fit the site’s format?

2. Don’t make the mistake of accepting the offer to post if the site doesn’t fit your schedule. I turned one offer down because they wanted a book review. I was reading a book at the time, but I wasn’t going to have time to finish it and write a review in time for my tour.

3. Get a calendar and write down the names of your contacts and the blog’s name and URL.
Don’t over commit. If you can’t write more than four or five articles, don’t promise to do seven or eight. It’s better to add events to your tour than to commit and not follow through.

4. I found it helpful to create an e-mail folder titled Virtual Book Tour. I moved all my e-mails (received and sent) into that folder so I could find certain e-mails easily. I also printed the final e-mails confirming the date/time of the event and placed them in a manila folder in event date order.

5. Create a folder in your favorites and save the links to each website and/or blog that is sponsoring you so you can find the links quickly.

6. Try to do a variety of events. Ask if you can write an article for some of the blogs, ask others if they would like to interview you. Check to see if a group has a chat room and would be willing to schedule an hour chat with you and their members. Check into other media opportunities such as radio and/or television. Be prepared to send a picture of your book cover or banner to some of the sites. Remember to include a few local blogs if they are available, such as a community or library blog.

7. Start writing. Type, type, type—breathe—type, type, type—breathe again! Vary the topics of your articles. Your sponsor will more than likely makes suggestions. They may want to know what inspired you to write. Others may want you to discuss specifics about your book. Take their lead, but if they leave the topic up to you, one idea source is to review some of your previous interview questions. Maybe there’s one that is particularly thought provoking that you would like to expand on.

8. When you e-mail your article to the website owner, be sure to remind him or her of your purpose, the name of your article, the agreed date to post the article and which blog to post it in if they have multiple blogs.

9. If your website has an events page, post the tour schedule and links. Join a site such as Booktour.com (mention my name if you join, please!). Book Tour is a super easy site to work with and it has a nice, clean look. It allows you to link to your website and book trailer (if you have one). There may be others, but this one has some other nice features I like such as allowing visitors to send reminders of the tour dates to their e-mails or websites.

10. A few days to a week before the tour, prepare another standard announcement to post on the various websites. This time, list the details of your tour and/or the links to the sites that lists your schedule.

11. Two-three days before each event, contact your sponsors and remind him or her to post your blog. This is also a good time to send out private e-mails to everyone listed in your address book to remind them of the tour. Be sure to ask them to post comments on your blogs and to forward your e-mail to a friend or two.

12. Check your posts for comments and type a response.

13. After each article has been published on the host site for the day, post it on your own website and/or blob. This way, your article will appear on the search engines via the host site as well as yours and your work will be available in one convenient place for visitors to read.

Step 3:
Measure your success in sales, exposure, and new opportunities. I won’t know until the tour is over exactly how my sales compared with previous months. I know I’ve sold more than a few books based on the number of people who have written to me. But sales aren’t the only measuring stick to success. This tour attracted the attention of critical reviewers, additional interview opportunities, and invitations to write for other sites. The tour kick-off was July 31 with a live interview on Internet Voices Radio. The following day, the hits on my website jumped by 44%. To listen to the interview visit, http://www.martastephens-author.com/interview.html.

Don’t be shy. You'll find that most authors or site owners will be more than happy to showcase you. It's a win/win situation. The site owner wins because you’re doing all the work; writing the articles and promoting their site. You win because you will be able to promote yourself and your book to a target audience that you might not have had access to prior to the tour.

Step 4:
Thank your sponsors and make sure you offer to reciprocate their kindness.

All the articles and interviews from my August 2007 Virtual Book Tour are available on this site. I look forward to your questions and/or comments!

Monday, August 20, 2007

When do I find time to write?
August 2007 Virtual Book Tour

That’s the question I’m most frequently asked.

First let me say that I work full time outside the home. I’m married with two children in college and my husband and I both care for our parents. We live in a large home in the historic section of town that has been a fantastic place to raise our children, has given us endless gardening pleasure, and is still a wonderful gathering place for family and friends—especially during the holidays.

I love to cook and have spoiled my family with homemade meals seven days a week from day one. This October will mark our 20th year in this house. The first 16 years I spent nearly every weeknight catching up with household chores, doing laundry, and helping the kids with homework. Countless weekends were spent painting and/or papering walls, stripping layers of paint from the hardwood, ripping out carpeting, sewing curtains, and dealing with the handymen that came to our rescue when something broke. I’ve spent untold hours scrubbing down surfaces and planting new flower beds. I’ve driven my children to ball game practices, dance rehearsals, school dances, and attended every science fair, play, and orchestra recital they were in from K-12.

And then ... I got bit by the writing bug. But life didn’t change right away. At first, I used to work writing into my schedule much like I would a hobby. I set it aside and picked it up as time permitted. But the more I learned, the more I enjoyed it. My writing time quickly moved up on my list of priorities. Now that I have one book published and the second book in the series in the works, writing has become my second job. Therefore I treat it as such.

My best advice is: Organize your time, prioritize the tasks, establish a schedule, and delegate, delegate, delegate. The first thing I had to admit to myself was that I couldn’t write and continue to do all the things that I had been accustomed to doing. Eventually I learned to say: “No.”

The day job is a must. It pays for my paper, ink cartridges, and the postage I use to mail out review copies of SILENCED CRY. It also helps pays for little things like the mortgage on this big old house and all the things that make it a home.

I can, however, take control of my time. Weekends are still errand days, but I don’t drag them out into an all day affair. I can get the downstairs picked up, swept, and dusted within an hour. I usually have several places to go as well, like the bank, the grocery story, and the dry cleaners. I get everything done in one run so I can free up my afternoon and write. The next day, I’ll clean the upstairs. As long as my kitchen and baths are clean, bed linens and towels are changed regularly, and the laundry is done. I’m happy.

Learn to delegate. Everyone in my family knows how to run the sweeper and my favorite small kitchen appliance is my crock-pot cook; better it cook all day than me. Our son is in charge of the trash detail and mows the lawn; my daughter helps in the kitchen. Dare I say it? She’s a better cook than I am.

So the question remains: When do I write? In the evenings I focus an average of 4-5 hours a night to writing, research, reading, and/or marketing and promotion. At the present time, I’m promoting of my debut novel, SILENCED CRY and working on the edits of my second book in the series.

Everyone is different. What has worked for me, may not work for someone else. Each person needs to find what method and schedule works best for them. The key to success in any venture, however, is dedication and consistency. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted. Prioritize your tasks and establish a schedule you can adhere to.

My house isn’t as spotless as it used to be and granted, the weeds in the flower beds have gotten a little out of hand this summer, but it’s still home, and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family who lets me indulge in my passion.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Perfect Crime
August 2007 Virtual Book Tour
For other reader comments, please visit the August 15, 2007 post in http://jeff_mariotte.typepad.com/my_weblog/

Have you ever thought of committing the perfect crime? You scheme and plan every detail from beginning to end. You know your victim. You have a motive and means. Keep to your routines—don’t draw any attention. And now you wait—patiently for the perfect window of opportunity. You strike when your victim least expects it, then you attack fast, clean, and leave without being noticed.

Except, murders are rarely planned, they’re seldom clean, and the killer always leaves something behind. A strand of hair, a careless fingerprint, a trace of saliva on a cigarette butt or the edge of a drinking glass is all it takes. One slip and you’re caught.

Regardless of how random the crime might seem, there is always a motive. It could be as immediate as an impulsive response to an argument or as obscured as a childhood experience. Once I decide who committed the crime in Silenced Cry, my challenge as an author was to understand the killer’s motive, his madness. The hardest part, of course, was making the killer invisible until the last possible moment.

My writing has been influenced as much by film as it has been by literature. One of my favorite past times, in fact, is to watch a suspense or thriller and try to guess who perpetrated the crime. I’m usually good at fingering the right person, but I hate to be right. There’s nothing better than to not see it coming. Sitting on the edge of my seat with one expectation and getting blown away by the truth is half the fun. Two movies that immediately come to mind are, High Crimes, and Presumed Innocent. Both films successfully divert the viewer’s attention from the killer. In both cases, the charges against the defendant are dismissed, and just when I thought the cases were solved and nothing else could possibly happen—it did.

In chapter one of my novel, a shot is fired and the first of several victims is killed. In chapter 10, Homicide is called to investigate a cold case. Workers find the skeletal remains of an infant entombed in a wall of an apartment building marked for demolition. Two murders, no connection, and still no motive or suspect. The killer’s only advantage in this case is time. The Baby Doe murder was committed years before DNA was admissible in a court of law. It was an era when all a killer had to do was to lurk in the shadows, watch his back for a while, and if need be, pay someone off to keep quiet.

The investigation heats up when Homicide Detective Sam Harper discovers a connection between the suspects in the Baby Doe case and his late partner’s murder. Evidence thrusts him ahead to unveil a host of crimes and a multitude of suspects. This modern day detective and his team of forensic scientists know all they need is that single hair, a sample of semen, or a trace of saliva to pin-point the guilty.

With the criminals safely behind bars, the cases appear to be solved until Harper’s attention is drawn to an otherwise ordinary event in the killer’s life. It’s an unlikely slip but to the trained eye it is as damning as a bloody fingerprint. A key turns, the lock flips open, and the truth flashes across Harper’s mind with the force of rippling white lightning. He discovers the trigger, what began the throng of crimes, each intended to conceal another. Yes, the killer committed the perfect crime and for nearly two decades his house of cards stood erect until a seasoned eye and DNA fingerprinting revealed far more than the killer’s identity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Where In The World Did This Story Come From?
August 2007 Virtual Book Tour
For other reader comments, please visit the August 12, 2007 post in http://killerhobbies.blogspot.com/2007/07/where-in-world-did-this-story-come-from.html

Embarking on my first virtual book tour has taken time and a bit of work to come up with a fresh approach to many of the same questions I’ve been asked over the past several months. The best thing about a virtual book tour though is that I haven’t had to move from my desk. I must say that the process has been as enjoyable as it was enlightening.

I thought I knew my characters and the story line, but this has forced me to analyze my motivation to write Silenced Cry and the other three books in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series. One of the best questions I received was, “How much of yourself is in the book?” I didn’t dwell on the question at first, but surprisingly, it forced me to think more than I had anticipated.

Consider the plot and setting. Silenced Cry is a detective crime mystery that takes place in a fictitious city of Chandler, Massachusetts. I’ve never worked in law enforcement and although I’ve always wanted to visit Massachusetts, I haven’t yet had the pleasure. That’s probably why I chose it as a backdrop for the book. Ah! I’ve influence the setting. My sister claims that Homicide Detective Sam Harper has my dry sense of humor. Maybe so, but aside from that similarity, the greatest “crime” I’ve ever committed was not putting enough postage stamps on an envelope filled with my bookmarks destined for a library event this past July. Thanks to my oversight and a late notification from the post office, they didn’t quite make it. As far as the characters, I’m pleased to say I’m nothing like them. I’ve never dealt in drugs, killed anyone, been arrested or raped so the question remains, where did this story come from?

I’ve loved mysteries since I was a little girl; the more complicated, the better. My passion began in grade school with ghost stories and eventually led to Agatha Christie and other greats. Since I am the whole of my life experiences, my writing has also been influenced by the classic noir films I’ve enjoyed over the years. So as I thought of how I would answer the question, I decided to first consider the emotions that millions of people around the world relate to: grief, anger, joy, fear, resentment, worry, suspicion, etc. Next, what would trigger those emotions in my characters and how uniquely would they each respond?

It took some doing getting into the antagonist’s skin and viewing the world through his or her eyes. But in truth, I thoroughly enjoyed writing their characters. It was what I would call a liberating experience. These contemptible creatures do all the vile things I would never dream of doing. Still, as much as I tried to step back away from my own viewpoint, I think it has every bit to do with the way the main character, Sam Harper feels about the case. His hatred for one of the suspects and his desire to avenge his partner’s death nearly pushes him over the legal line. He struggles with his sympathy toward one of the victims who snaps, retaliates, and becomes his next suspect.
The story could have ended any number of ways, but knowing Harper as well as I do, there was only one path for him to take.

Maybe that’s where I’ve snuck into to book; my idea of morals and ethics, the belief in the golden rule, acknowledging the difference between right and wrong, and the expectation that justice will prevail. Then again, one reviewer called Silenced Cry a “... convoluted and complex story that demonstrates a vivid imaginative gift ...” Alright, imagination or not, I’m sure a part of me is in there someplace. I only hope Silenced Cry is as enjoyable for others to read as it was for me to write.

(The entire interview mentioned in this blog was posted on August 9, at http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Making of Silenced Cry
Interview by Marilyn Meredith August 2007 Virtual Book Tour
For other reader comments, please visit the August 8, 2007 post in http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/

Marilyn is asking author Marta Stephens about her newest book.

MM: Tell me about your latest book.

MS: Silenced Cry is the story of a young narcotics detective, Sam Harper. He and his partner, Gillies, are on surveillance of a drug supplier who had eluded capture. It quickly becomes evident that Gillies is intentionally muddying up the facts. Key points don’t add up and makes Harper believe Gillies is involved in illegal activities. His partner is shot and killed during the surveillance. When questions surrounding his partner’s death go unanswered, Harper suspects a cover up.Harper is transferred into homicide and given a new partner, Dave Mann. Their first case takes them to the Harbor View Apartments, a building marked for demolition, where workers discover the skeletal remains of an infant entombed in one of the walls. The investigation into the infant’s murder opens the floodgates of questions when the suspects in the Baby Doe case all tie back to Gillies. Evidence mounds as quickly as the bodies in the morgue and the truth leads Harper to the person he least suspects.Silenced Cry is a layered, multi-plot story about the events, disappointments, and successes that transform the character, Sam Harper, into the man who emerges in the final pages of Silenced Cry.

MM: Where can we buy it?

MS: Silenced Cry, ISBN: 978-1-905202-72-0, is a 248 page paperback available on several online bookstores including all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, ABEBooks, and Powells to name a few. It is being distributed by booksellers both here in the States and in Europe so most independent bookstore owners have access to the book and can make it available to their customers. My publisher, BeWrite Books (UK) makes both the paperback and the e-book version of Silenced Cry available on their website, http://www.bewrite.net/merchant2/4.00/merchant.mv. For additional locations, please visit my website, http://www.martastephens-author.com/.

MM: What gave you the idea to write Silenced Cry?

MS: Silenced Cry was actually the third book I wrote in the series. I wanted the set to include at least four stand-alone stories. But once the first two books were drafted and I was ready to draft out the third, I decided that instead of moving forward in time, I needed to show the beginning and therefore, needed to delve deeper into Harper’s makeup, his drive. I quickly learned that there was a great deal more to the Sam Harper character than catching criminals. It was important that he become personally affected by the crimes and once I understood Harper’s motivations and the depths of his emotions, I set out to create criminals who were so vial and their crimes so vicious that it would push Harper to the brink of potentially crossing the legal line.In short, Silenced Cry, is a story about Homicide Detective Sam Harper. He isn’t a flawless hero. He doesn't always get things right, the evidence doesn't always fall neatly into place, and doors don't always open to reveal the answer. His short-comings are what makes him human. Even though there are a multitude of crimes, criminals, interrogation scenes and visits to the city morgue in Silenced Cry, at its core, this is a story about the events, disappointments, and successes that transform Sam Harper into the man who emerges in the final pages of Silenced Cry.

MM: How much of yourself or your experiences are in the book?

MS: I’ve never dealt in drugs, never killed anyone, I was never arrested or raped, and I’ve never worked in law enforcement. Still, I can’t imagine a writer not bleeding a little bit into their books with what I’d call human experiences; grief, anger, joy, fear, resentment, worry, suspicion—everyone can relate to those feelings. I dug deep into my own emotions in order to understand how and why these characters acted and reacted the way they did. At times, it took some doing to step into the antagonists’ skin and to look at the world from their perspective. There’s something to be said about the writer’s belief system too and how it affects the plot and the characters’ behaviors. As much as I tried to step back away from my own viewpoint, I think a part of me snuck in between the lines.

MM: What would you like to see happen with Silenced Cry?

MS: Sam Harper is the new detective on the beat; Silenced Cry is his calling card.

The book introduces Harper and a host of characters to mystery lovers around the world. It’s a layered story with multiple subplots that pulls the reader from one twist and turn into another. While reviewers have repeatedly dubbed Silenced Cry a pager turner (visit http://www.martastephens-author.com/ for a complete list of reviews), one reader wrote, “Silenced Cry held my interest from the first gunshot, past the first, second, and third plot twist into the clubhouse turn and on to an ending I hadn’t anticipated.”

My first goal was to create a character readers could connect with and love. The second was to develop a story line that would draw and hold the reader through a battery of crimes and a maze of clues. As a first-time author, the challenge has been to create an awareness. We geared the promotional campaign to draw interest to the book. However, sales aside, I’ve found that in spite of all our marketing efforts, word of mouth is still the best sure-fire way to sell books. People pay attention to testimonials from those they trust. Nothing thrills me more than to hear that a reader has passed the book on to friends and family members and they in turn have passed it on to others as a must read.Nearly all who have read Silenced Cry have asked about the next book in the series. This tells me that Silenced Cry is doing exactly what I hoped it would do; it has grabbed the mystery lover’s attention (and even a few non-mystery fans) and started a following for the series. To those who have read Silenced Cry, thank you! I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Sam Harper will be around for a long time. In fact, he’s already working on his next case.

MM: What are your writing habits?

MS: Time is precious. I squeeze it out of my evenings after work and on weekends to write. Still, I average three to four hours of writing every day—quite a bit more on weekends.The first thing I do when I begin a project is to briefly outline the storyline. My outline, however, is never written in stone. It is extremely flexible and only used as a guideline that changes as the story develops. When I began to write Silenced Cry, it was a linear plot line; one case, one murderer, one solution. But then I started to wonder what could possibly happen next? That’s when a whole string of possibilities emerged.I find it helpful to write bios and back-stories for each of the main characters. Real people don’t live in a vacuum. They have deep-rooted reasons for their behaviors, and have trigger points that have made them behave as they do. Back-stories tell me some amazing things that help me to create three-dimensional characters.Once I understand where the story is going, I do extensive research on police procedures (including consultations with professionals in the field), forensics and anything else I need to understand. Research, however, is on-going.After I’ve briefly outlined the plot line, have written character bios and back-stories, and researched my subject, I clear my desk and start typing. Some chapters come very quickly for me, but writing is a process that doesn’t always follow a logical path. I’ve written chapters and chapter sections out of sequence only because they came to me at the most unexpected moments and I had to put my thoughts to writing.An important lesson I’ve learned is to not to fall in love with my writing. I’ve cut entire chapters from my manuscripts more than once. Some I’ve really liked. One in particular was a provocative and fast-paced chapter. It had great dialogue and tense action, but no matter how much I wanted it to add to the plot, I couldn’t justify it. It’s in a special file in my hard drive waiting for the day when it will be resurrected. I never know if and when I might be able to use deleted sections again so I keep a good majority of them. The second book in the series is a perfect example of how important it is to sacrifice words for the sake of the plot. As I mentioned earlier, I wrote the book a couple of years ago. When it was time to revisit it, I didn’t have to read past the first chapter or two to know I had to start over. After cutting out around 45,000 words, the only thing that remains of the original story is its essence, but this is a story that Sam Harper fans will enjoy.

MM: What are you working on now?

MS: I’m in the middle of the edits on my second book in the series. The reader will find a few familiar characters in it. When bodies start washing ashore no one, including Harper, suspects their murderer or his motives. He is up against a cunning killer whose purpose and tactics would have escaped detection had it not been for a personality flaw—over confidence. This is a classic murder mystery with an added splash of the supernatural, a power-hungry drug dealer, a religious fanatic, and a hint of romance just to make things interesting.

MM: Thank you so much, Marta, for answering my questions.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Who do you love to hate?
Results of this week's poll.

1 for Deana
1 for Chuck Toomey
2 for Owens
1 for Flanagan.

Have YOU read SILENCED CRY? Who was your favorite character and why?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Year of Firsts

What a difference a year makes. As I look back on how my life has changed since last August, it seems incredible so much has happened.

SILENCED CRY, my first novel was published. I had never design a web site before--I'm a little more knowledgeable about codes now. It was the first attempt at creating a book trailer--too addictive! I discovered all the free features for authors in Amazon. I had never been interviewed before now there are several listed on my website and a few more coming. To those interested in hearing my voice, you'll be able to connect from my website at the "Stephens Interrogated" page to my first live interview on Internet Voices Radio.

I'm now in the second week of my first Virtual Book Tour to promote SILENCED CRY. Check out the links to the tour sites on the Events page of my website, www.martastephens-author.com. All the tour articles are being posted onto this blog after they have been published on the host sites. If you scroll down, you'll also find an interview with SILENCED CRY's Homicide Detective Sam Harper. He's waiting to answer your questions so post away!

It's been a year of ups and down but never hopeless. I've said good-bye family and friends, then made new acquaintances. Our daughter (21) became engaged--how joyous. She moved back home; we gained two new dogs--no comment. Our son graduated from high school. Two in college, now that's a first! Daughter is moving back out this week; mother-in-law moving in. In a few more months I'll be a year older. Okay, maybe that's not so new, but it is yet another change that will add to my treasure trove of life experiences.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

This Writer’s Journey
August 2007 Virtual Book Tour
For other reader comments, please visit the August 3, 2007 post in http://writingspace.blogspot.com/

I’d like to say that writing has been a life-long passion, but the fact of the matter is, my first love was art. From the day I could hold a pencil in my hand, I drew. I studied a wide variety of art forms in school; charcoals, oils, watercolors, ink washes, ceramics, sculpture—love it all. Later I studied graphic design and got hooked on it. Although writing and art are two vastly different creative forms of expression, I am the whole of my life experiences. The art discipline helped me to develop an observant eye and sharpened my senses to the subtle nuances of the world around me. I can visualize the details of a scene as clearly as if I were looking at it with my eyes. The trick for me is to transform those images and other sensory messages into words. Is the scene vivid enough for the reader to smell the stench of death when Harper walks into the morgue; see the glint of light bouncing off a pool of water on the sidewalk, and hear the rain drumming onto a metal awning?

The literal beginning of my writing journey began on Thanksgiving morning 1985, six months after our eldest daughter passed away. She was born in October 1983, with a congenital heart defect. Words couldn’t express the ache or the emptiness I felt after her loss. I found console in my faith and in the journaling of my thoughts. That Thanksgiving holiday was especially difficult, yet in the midst of it, something happened that brought me peace and an understanding that I was spiritually not alone. I jotted my thoughts but quickly put it away knowing I couldn’t dwell on it for long stretches of time. That first story took several years to complete in spite that it is only 500 words long.

Time doesn’t heal but it does pass. Several years later, I read an article that briefly mentioned the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s. I was struck to read of the brutality inflicted on the Chinese people by the invading forces, but what was even more gripping was that those events hadn’t been mentioned in any of my high school or college history courses. I researched the topic for several weeks. The more I thought about it, the more inspired I became to write a spy murder mystery. My challenge was that I had never taken a creative writing course in my life. I didn’t know the difference between a beat and a tag, how to write dialogue, how to develop a character, or how to identify a point of view slip. I managed to get the first draft completed but was unable to move it forward. I joined several author groups, read the discussions, followed suggested links, and forged great friendships. I also bought every how-to book I could get my hands on and read each one cover to cover. All this in an attempt to learn the craft and complete the novel I had not been able to finish.

I was on a major learning curve for a couple of years. I set the novel aside and began to write shorts and flash fiction. Ironically though, I found I had a tendency to write much longer pieces than most publications would accept as short stories. Most of my works begged for more room to develop the plot. I experimented with different lengths and discovered that novellas were the perfect fit for my style; longer than a short story, but not as complex as a novel. I knew I had reached a pivotal point in my life. The writing bug bit—I was hooked.

Homicide Detective Sam Harper arrived on the scene: The creation of The Sam Harper Crime Mystery series and its diverse set of characters go back to a fall afternoon in 2004. That was the day I wrote The Black Pearl which will now be the second book in the Sam Harper Crime Mysteries series. Although I’ve changed the story line considerably, the idea for that book was sparked by a tale of a cursed ring my mother told me when I was eight. I wrote The Black Pearl and (at the time) books two and three but needed a fourth story to complete the series, however, instead of moving forward in time, I decided to show the beginning in “Silenced Cry.” I felt there was much more to the Sam Harper character than catching criminals. I wanted the reader to understand who Homicide Detective Sam Harper is and what drives him. Harper has his share of flaws. He doesn't always get it right, the evidence doesn't always fall neatly into place, and doors don't always open to reveal the answer. The deeper Harper digs into the case, the closer the crime gets nudged toward his doorstep. He is consumed with suspicion, doubt, and a hatred that nearly destroys him.

The journey is far from over. Each day brings a new encounter and another incident to add to the treasure trove of life experiences I can infuse into my writing.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Interview with Homicide Detective Sam Harper of Silenced Cry
by Kaycee Conners
August 2007 Virtual Book Tour
For other reader comments, please visit the August 1, 2007 post in

KC: Detective Harper—

SH: My friends call me, Sam.

KC: Sam, thank you for agreeing to let me interview you. I know you’re on a tight schedule. Let’s start with you, shall we? Tell us a little about yourself.

SH: Home is Litchfield, Massachusetts, a small rural community just north of Chandler. I wasn’t real fond of it at the time. Dad was a city detective in Chandler, a thirty minute drive from the house. He knew what life was like in the city and didn’t want any part of it. He wanted a place where my brother Paul and I could grow up without looking over our shoulders and where he could come home and forget about things. When I was a kid, I thought he was being selfish; I know where he’s coming from now. Anyway, that’s where I went to school too. My dad still owns the house I grew up in. I go home every chance I get. Sometimes it’s the only place I can think.

KC: I understand you went to Compton College there in Chandler. Did you go with the intent of becoming a law enforcement officer?

SH: What kid knows what he wants when he’s 17? Guess being a police officer was always in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t ready for it then. The truth of the matter is, I went to college on a music scholarship. My mother taught band and orchestra at the high school for as long as I can remember—been playing the piano since I was five. When I got into Compton, I didn’t have a clue what to do with the rest of my life. I knew it wasn’t going to have anything to do with music though. I entered the police academy a couple of years after graduation, almost ten years to the day.

KC: You say you weren’t ready at 17. What changed?

SH: Society, the justice system, me--everything. I’d hear Dad come home and talk about some of his cases; the tough ones they couldn’t crack. There were more than one night the old man didn’t sleep. I was cocky enough to think I could do better. I found out real fast that nothing good ever comes easy.

KC: You mentioned earlier that you guessed being a police officer was always in the back of your mind. I read in your bio on your site about the death of a young schoolmate. Did that incident really have an impact on your decision to become a detective?

SH: I’ve never been able to get that day out of my mind. Cute little girl. Used to drive past our bus stop every day and wave. One morning, she rode her bike by as usual—never made to school. A few days later, one of the neighbors found her battered body near a creek that ran through his farm. There were no witnesses. No one heard her scream. It was as if she had vanished. Dad was one of the investigating officers. He knew her parents well and the investigation damn near tore him apart.

KC: Was her murderer ever caught?

SH: No. Her case is still open. Twenty years later and I’ve never stopped thinking about her killer.

KC: You’d like to get your hands on her case, wouldn’t you?

SH: You bet. But those old ones are the cases we work on in between the current ones.

KC: Yes, your current cases. So tell me. What’s a day in the life of a detective like?

SH: A good day in Homicide is the day we make an arrest; when all the pieces come together and they point straight to the killer.

KC: But ... what about you?

SH: I’m on call 24/7. Homicide is exhausting and rewarding all at the same time. My day starts at 5:30 in the morning; I’m at police headquarters before seven. I spend the first two hours of my day reviewing case files. I analyze the previous day’s activities and study the witnesses’ statements. Then my partner Dave Mann and I set up the day’s roster. We’re usually out the door by 9:00, but the cases we investigate dictate our schedule.

KC: How so?

SH: We never know what we’ll be up against. We go into homes most people don’t want to drive by in broad daylight. We knock on doors without knowing who’s hiding behind them. It could be a felon pointing a weapon or a weeping child. It’s all about timing. A minute lost pushes the case an inch further into the cold case stack. So we watch the clock. The sooner we can get to the scene of the crime, talk with witnesses, and check for evidence, the better our chances are of solving the case.

KC: And that’s when you catch the killer?

SH: No. All that just to find a potential suspect.

KC: I know you have a partner, Dave Mann. But wouldn’t it be easier to work alone?

SH: We’re a team. Besides Dave, my three most trusted colleagues are medical examiners Jack Fowler and Yolanda Cruz. The other is Carter Graves, head of Forensics; nerdy looking guy, smart as a whip and always right. I’d be nothing without them. When I’m not on the streets, I’m consulting with one of them.

KC: And after hours? What do you do to relax?

SH: Life outside the force doesn’t happen. The only thing waiting for me at home at the end of the day is a tall Scotch and soda and the six o’clock news that lets me rehash my day. I eat frozen dinners—sometimes I’ll watch an old film—a Bogart or Edward G. Eventually I crash on the couch. A few hours later I do it all over again.

KC: You seem to have everything going for you. Are you ever frightened?

SH: Sure. Loss of integrity scares the hell out of me. In myself, my partner, the system. You’re nothing without it.

KC: And anger? What’s the one thing that angers you most?

SH: The immense disregard for life. Indifference -- an apathetical point of view. No law or consequence will stop a person who doesn’t care.

KC: And when it’s over, how hard is it to recover from a crime scene?

SH: It depends. I’m immersed in death, day in and day out. After a while you get used to it. So you tell yourself to be careful, don’t get desensitized. But you can’t help it. You have to look beyond the gore to do the job.

KC: Are some cases harder to work than others?

SH Seeing kids in the morgue is never easy. I’m not talking about the thugs that roam the streets. I’m talking about the innocent. The babies, the grade school kids that are unwanted at birth, get in some low-life’s way, and are tossed out like yesterday’s garbage. The guys on the force, the ones with families think about their kids. I’ve seen some of them cry when they didn’t think anyone was watching.

KC: What about you? What do you think about?

SH: I keep wondering if it’s fair to bring a child into this world, into a society as corrupt as ours.

KC: Have you found an answer?

There’s a pause.

SH: Change has to start somewhere.

KC: Clearly your job has had an impact on you. Can you talk about it?

SH: I’m conscious of time. I’m thirty-two and don’t know if I’ll see thirty-three. That’s what the job does to a guy. I’m trained to defend myself and others. I don’t worry about getting killed, but it is a reality. You never know. So I try to take time for the things that are important to me—my family and friends, because in the end that’s all that matters.

KC: That leads me to my next question. I hope this isn’t too personal, but is there someone special in your life?

SH: Sure. He smiles for the first time. There are a million possibilities. I’ll let you know the minute I meet her. He looks at his watch.

KC: I know ... you’re busy, but one more thing before you go. Can we use your name to get out of a jam?

SH: He smiles again and stares at me for only a moment. Only if it’s legal.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

On Step At A Time
August 2007 Virtual Book Tour
For other reader comments, please visit the July 31, 2007 post in: http://workingstiffs.blogspot.com/

During a recent interview, the reporter said, “Stephens’s life has had as many twists and turns as her novel,” and then went on to list some of my accomplishments. This encouraged me to take a quick inventory and draw up my own list.

I live in the Midwest with my husband and two children. I returned to college as a non-traditional student, earned a degree in journalism in my late forties, and am fortunate to be gainfully employed. I maintain our home, shop for groceries, do laundry, take the dogs to the vet, and pay bills. In my book, this adds up to an amazingly ordinary life.

The only thing not on the list is that I’m a risk-taker. Calculated or not, sometimes we need to crawl out of the comfort zone and feel the edge of an uncharted path before moving forward. I prefer to describe my life as a series of stepping stones, each one leading to a new goal and the next level of development. The catch is, after achieving one set of goals, there are always choices: should I stop while I’m ahead or move forward?

Through my work at the university and growing network of friends, I see adults returning to the classroom every day in the hopes of career advancements or for the sake of exploring new interest. Others have sought the satisfaction of becoming entrepreneurs or giving of themselves for volunteer work. I applaud them all. It takes courage to chart a new path and re-invent ones self. Regardless of age, at the core of their decisions is a deep-rooted desire to secure their happiness.

My adventurous streak was never more evident to me than after the release of my debut crime/mystery novel, Silenced Cry. The reactions from those who have known me for the past 20 to 30 years ranged from disbelief to wild excitement. Most were extremely supportive. Some, however, were curious as to why I had pursued a writing career at this point in my life and why I had chosen a genre so different from my “normal” lifestyle. Invariably, the next thing out of their mouth was, “I always wanted to ___.” Fill in the blank with a dream. When I asked them why they hadn’t pursued whatever “it” was, the consistent answer centered on a lack of confidence.

Compared with most other authors, my four-year writing career is in its infancy. Now that I’m in the midst of promoting my book, I’m grateful for my public relations background, but I found that fact-based journalism hadn’t prepare me for a career as a fiction writer. Still, I believed I could write a novel and was willing to risk failure for the chance at success. I’m not alone.

I recently spoke with a long-time friend who had a similar experience. We met years ago when we held secretarial positions at the university. A while back, she became involved in local politics, won the primary election this year, and is now running for mayor. Sharon asked me the same questions about my writing. When, what, how? I explained that now that the word “retirement” has crept into my vocabulary, I didn’t want to wake up one day to find that everyone I cared about had moved on with their lives and that I hadn’t taken time to plant the seeds of my own happiness.

“Women are nurturers,” I told her, “and like millions of others, I’ve been a supportive wife and raised two fantastic children who are now in college working toward meaningful careers. I’ve done the committee work, plotted a career path, did the PTA thing, and in recent years, I’ve also helped to care for my aging parents. Now it’s my turn. I’ll never stop caring for others, but writing fulfills a need and feeds my passion. It’s where a lifetime of stepping stones has led me.”

“You could have been telling my story,” she said.

My friend and I both faced challenges and certain stumbling blocks in the pursuit of our goals, but the words, “I can’t” or “I’ll never” didn’t stop us from trying.

I’m reminded of a great line in the movie City Slickers. Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch is riding his horse on the range next to crusty old Curly. Mitch is desperate to find life’s secret to happiness. Curly tells him he knows the answer, holds up one finger, and says, “This. One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and the rest don’t mean (anything).” Mitch, expecting a magical revelation asks, “But what is the one thing?”
A sardonic smile slips across Curly’s sun-creased face as he says, “That’s what you have to find out.”

The neat thing about dreams is that they are as unique as the people who dare to follow them. I don’t know what the future will hold except to say that Homicide Detective Sam Harper will keep on the hunt of wily criminals and will continue to solve impossible murders. As for me, I’m grateful for the here and now; the people I’ve met and the opportunities extended to me. In spite of the hurdles, the endless revisions, and insanely late hours of typing, I’m living my dream and having a ball!
Today marks the third day of my virtual book tour. The entire schedule and links to articles and interviews are available on the events page of my website, http://www.martastephens-author.com/.

Today, you'll have a chance to meet the main character of SILENCED CRY, Homicide Detective Sam Harper in a personal interview with Kaycee Conners on her Live Journal Blog http://pubd2b.livejournal.com/

Please stop by and pay Detective Harper a visit. Post your comments. He's ready to answer your questions!! Harper's first crime mystery novel, SILENCED CRY, is available on-line at all the Amazons, B&N, Books-a-Million, and Powells just to name a few!

Also check the July 31 blog on http://workingstiffs.blogspot.com/

The idea of the virtual tour is to draw attention to the host site as well as the author’s books. Look forward to your comments!