Thursday, November 15, 2007

I wrote this in response to a challenge posted in Gathers by my good friend, Aaron Lazar to write a conversation between his character Gus LeGarde of the Gus LeGarde series and someone else.

A Chance Meeting
by Marta Stephens
copyright 2007 all rights reserved

The rolling two-lane road spread out before me in quiet solitude as it had every day for the past several years. Behind me was my work day—students with questions, forgotten assignments, and more excuses than answers. To my right, the late October sun flickered, emitting its final golden rays over a passing rutted field. I glanced into the rear view mirror; the city was now nothing more than a distance glow against an indigo sky.

I knew home was minutes away when I drove over the crest on the road. I could almost hear Max barking his exuberant greeting the minute he’d hear my car turn into the driveway. I yearned for the smell of that pot roast and apple pie Mrs. Pierce had promised to prepare for my evening meal. As I made my way around the next bend in the road, my headlights swept over a black jeep parked on the shoulder of the road to my right. Its lights were flashing and steam rolled out from under the hood. I thought for a moment, but no one from these parts drove anything like it. I immediately became suspicious wondering who would drive through this isolated section of back road that was miles away from anything.

My stomach grumbled in protest at the thought of delaying a taste of Mrs. Pierce’s cooking. But guilt set in. How often had I worried about Frederica’s car breaking down along an isolated country road such as this one? Would anyone stop to help her? The predicted drop in the temperature had arrived so I did what I hoped any stranger would do for my child. I parked behind the jeep, grabbed my flashlight, and got out of my old Volvo sedan.

“What seems to be the problem?” A quick glance at the license plate told me this driver was a long way from home.

A pleasant enough looking young man stepped out from under the hood. Except for the short blond hair, he could have been me when I was in my thirties. He was casually dressed in jeans, a dark mock turtle neck shirt, light colored jacket, and not a spot of grease on him that I could see.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Are you from around here?”

I studied him for a second or two, uncertain if I trusted him enough to say. He must have read my mind though and stretched out his hand.

“Sam Harper.” As soon as we shook, he unzipped his jacket and reached into his breast pocket.

“I’m a detective from Chandler, Massachusetts.”

The badge in his hand was as real as the Magnum I noticed hugging his side. “Gus LeGarde,” I said. “Homicide?”

“Where’s the nearest tow service?”

“About fifteen miles back that way, but it won’t do you any good at this hour on a Friday night. Where’re you headed?”

“Silver Lake. Am I anywhere near it?”

“It’s not more than a forty minute drive from here.” I was immediately filled with curiosity about him; why would a homicide officer from Massachusetts be interested in going to the quiet community of Silver Lake? My brother-in-law, Siegfried, immediately came to mind and how quickly people had judged him since his accident at such a tender young age. It seemed easier to judge than to slip into another man’s shoes. Against my better judgment, I allowed my inquisitive nature to take over. “A hot meal is just down the road if you’re interested.”

He glanced at his watch then back toward his jeep. The offer seemed to make him nervous. Again I questioned my sanity. I would have hesitated to take the offer too, but we both knew he had no other alternative.

“Look,” I said, “I live a quarter mile down the road and if I know my housekeeper, there’s more than enough food for both of us. All we have around here are small privately owned shops. I guarantee they’re all closed by now. You’re not going to get anything done tonight.”


By the time Sam and I arrived at the farm, he seemed more at ease knowing that I was a harmless music professor. He told me about his parents; his hero father, the former city detective, and his late mother, the high school music teacher. We shared our love for music and although I prefer Chopin, to Sam’s BB King, in theory we had more in common than I imagined possible between two strangers.

After enjoying the delicious pot roast Mrs. Pierce cooked with the end of the season vegetables from our garden, Sam grabbed his beer and followed me into the great room in the foyer.
I settled into my leather recliner leaving my late wife’s over-stuffed chair across from the woodstove for my guest. To my surprise, Max immediately took to Sam and followed him in on his heels.

“Feels good in here,” Sam took a drink and gazed into the warm glow of the fire. “This is a big home. Do you have a family?”

“My wife’s passed away several years ago – we have one daughter; married.” I tried not to roll my eyes. Except for the joy of having a beautiful child, the union was one that should have been dissolved years ago. Instead, I focused on the positive. “Have a two-year-old grandson, Johnny. He’s my buddy, chubby cheeks and all. What about you?”

Sam swallowed hard; his eyes drifted back to the blue and orange flames dancing along the logs. “I’m working on it.”

“Someone special, I take it?”


His subsequent silence made it clear his love life was none of my business so I quickly changed the subject. We talked about the house and the gardens and Genesee Valley. I told him of my travels to France, Germany, and Austria which shifted our conversation back to our love of music.

I noticed Max hadn’t left Sam alone all evening. He was at his feet during dinner and now my Husky-Wire-Haired Dachshund mutt rested his head on Sam’s lap and shot guilty glances between the two of us. Sam scratched him behind the ear and smiled. “You and this farm remind me of home.”

“You’re welcome to stay the night if you want. Heaven knows I have the room. I’ll call the tow truck in the morning for you. You could rent a car if you want. Old Sam down at the garage could probably have your car fixed by the time you get back from Silver Lake.”

“Another Sam, huh? Must be good at what he does,” he said with a tease in his voice. “Thanks. I’d appreciate that.”

I was beginning to enjoy young Mr. Harper’s company, but something about him continued to tug at the back of my mind.

“You’re a long way from home. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s in Silver Lake?”

“A witness.” Sam paused as if measuring his words. “I’m working a cold case.”

“A murder in Silver Lake?”

“No, in Chandler. I followed a lead to the only living witness in a twenty-year old murder.”

“I see. I can’t imagine it’s easy piecing old evidence together.”

“Sometimes we get lucky.”

“Like finding a witness?”

He nodded.

For a moment, the only sound in the room was the snap and crackling of the fire. Sam took another drink then scratched at the label on the bottle. I watch the way he continued to stare at the flames dance across the log in the stove. He was far more intense for a man his age than I had seen in a while, and thus I sense this was more than a case to him.

“This murder case – it’s personal, isn’t it?”

He slowly turned to face me. I felt as if I had breached hollow ground.

He reached into his wallet and produced a small faded picture of a beautiful blond little girl.

“The murder of an innocent child always is.”
The End
Setting The Record Straight

As I imagine most authors do, I routinely Google my name to see if any new reviews of SILENCED CRY have been posted that I am not aware of. A few weeks ago, a link to the November 2007, Southern Review of Books blog mentioning my name in an articled titled: “Authors seeking publicity turn to virtual blog tours for attention” written by Noel Griese. It naturally caught my attention. The article criticized authors who conduct virtual book tours by stating: “While best-selling authors tend to regard book tours as passé and a waste of time, others less successful, desperate for attention, are turning to virtual tours of blogs as a less expensive alternative.” He made examples of two recent virtual book tours; mine and that of a fellow author friend, Marilyn Meredith. Marilyn was on of several who graciously agreed to sponsor and interview me as part of my August tour. I chose to ignore Griese’s comments and took it for what it was, his opinion.

This morning, I received a Google Alert that led me to Frank Creed’s post on referencing Mr. Greise’s comment. This time I was more than curious. After reading Creed’s blog, I wrote the following comment, but as yet, more than eight hours later, it has not yet been approved by the blog’s author.

My comment:
Since neither Mr. Griese of “The Southern Review of Books” nor Frank Creed contacted me for information, readers should know that the comments made in their blogs relative to my virtual book tour were not based on facts, but assumptions made about this author and the goals for her August virtual book tour.

This author doesn’t measure success by sales alone. Had they asked, I would have gladly told them my purpose in conducting the August virtual book tour was not increased sales, but to reach a diverse target audience and create name recognition for myself and my novel, SILENCED CRY (released on April 23, 2007 by BeWrite Books, UK). Griese didn’t measure the response from readers, the increased traffic to my website, or list a summary of the reviews; all these things would have given his readers an opportunity to reach their own conclusions, but they were conveniently omitted from his “study.” Had he asked, I could have also informed him of the number of reviewers who contacted me and asked to review the book, the number of new interviews the tour generated, or the number of offers I received to be a guest writer on other sites. Further, a true case study of book tour vs. sales would have also included an interview with my publisher who would have been glad to inform Mr. Griese that sales went up in August and September, not only as a result of the exposure the book received via the tour, but due to all the other marketing efforts I had been involved with over the span of several months.

For the record, SILENCED CRY has been internationally reviewed and is available in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa, and Australia. Since I launched my website on March 12 of this year, it has received over 25,000 hits from visitors in 77 countries. To post an opinion based solely on the US Amazon ratings over 4-8 weeks is a meager attempt to manipulate the information to fit a one-sided view.

What is truly unfortunate about these articles is that aside from being slanted, they discourage new authors to use virtual book tours as a networking tool. News flash, call it what you want, but every time an author posts an article or a commentary anywhere on the web, they are in essence promoting their writing and books. This is no different than what an author does when conducting a virtual book tour.

Sales are the results of continued, consistent marketing efforts and to imply that a book tour is akin to sending out a resume on the net followed by the comment, “ah, my résumé (or in this case, book tour) has reached millions of people, now I can sit back and reap the benefits.” is to accuse authors of being naive and uninformed individuals who think that a single marketing strategy will generate long-term sales. This is the biggest fallacy I’ve read thus far.

One final note, after quoting Griese, Creed wrote: “COMMENTS on story above:” implying that I wrote the comment to Griese’s article. I didn’t – it was written by Griese’s other targeted author, Marilyn Meredith. This is one more example of another misleading bit of information written to fit the author’s agenda.

Now, I am curious to know how Mr. Griese found me in the first place if not through my virtual book tour which, of course, makes my point. It caught his attention.

Keep in mind that once a comment or article is posted on the web, it will be available to readers for years, long after a site is shut down. Don’t believe me? Google my name or better yet, Google your own. And that Amazon rating? It has been dropping steadily over the past several weeks. Yesterday it had dropped to around 145,000, I had a rating of 88,000 at B&N. Today they're both up a bit, but I can't stress over this. I write for my readers, and what they have to say about my work. Success to me is knowing that I've touched someone's life and that my writing has given someone pleasure.

If you are so inclined, please read the latest review I received this week by Aaron Lazar on this blog. All other reviews are available on my website, To read all my virtual book tour articles, please visit the August archives on this blog.