Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Creation of El Vengador

By Stephanie Osborn

Today we are having a "book bomb" for my new ebook, El Vengador! A book bomb is when all of the fans and readers of an author get together and purchase their copies all on the same day! This can get the ball rolling on sales, because it results in a significant bump in the sales rankings, that in turn pulls in people who are browsing but unfamiliar with the author. But first, a little bit about El Vengador, just know...whet your appetite.


Deputy Sheriff Michael Kirtchner gets an "unknown disturbance" dispatch call to a remote house trailer in the swamp. There, he discovers an old woman and a dog, terrorized by a mysterious beast, which he takes to be a bear. But when he contacts Game Warden Jeff Stuart to come trap the animal, Stuart tells him to get out if he values his life - this is no ordinary animal. Is Kirtchner up against a Swamp Ape - a Florida version of Bigfoot - or something more...sinister?

El Vengador is my first deliberate foray into the paranormal and horror genres. I’ve had numerous friends try to convince me to do so in the last few years, but never was able to get hold of the right story idea. So I waited and let it “percolate” in the back of my mind.

But when a Facebook friend (who wants to remain anonymous - for obvious reasons!) told me the story of his encounter of a mysterious “Florida Swamp Ape” during his tenure as a deputy sheriff, I was fascinated. And when he gave his permission for me to fictionalize the story, I knew I had found my paranormal horror story.

So I took his basic story from his own words and I transformed it. I cleaned it up, couched it in proper writer’s grammar, changed the point of view. I changed the deputy’s name, added the perspective of other civilians who encountered the creature…and then I twisted the knife.

Because, you see, I have some Cherokee in me. Oh, the family can’t prove it, not after the way the Cherokee were ejected from their properties during the Trail of Tears; any Native American who could pass as white in those days, did, and all records of their heritage were lost. But because I have several distinctive genetic expressions of that heritage, I am accepted by most elders I know as Cherokee. And my curiosity being what it is, along with my sincerity in wanting to know, I’ve been taught numerous things that most people don’t generally know.

Like the fact that the Cherokee (along with the Seminole and the Iroquois Confederacy, among others) are purported to have been offshoots – colonies, if you will – of the Maya peoples. It’s interesting to note that, just as the “Cherokee” are a group of tribes [Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, etc.], the Seminole are a group of tribes [Seminole, Creek, Miccosukee, etc.], the Iroquois Confederacy are a group of tribes [Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga, and later Tuscarora] ― so too are the Maya really a collection of tribes [Yucatec, Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Ch’ol, Kekchi, Mopan, and more]! The Maya comprised, and still comprise (oh yes, they’re still around ― they were laughing their butts off at the white fear of the “end” of their repeating calendar), more than 25 different peoples. The notion of splinter groups of this huge nation (it covered a substantial portion of Central America, butted up against the Aztec/Olmec empire, and expanded out into the Caribbean) moving up into Florida, then up the East Coast of North America, isn’t hard to believe at all.

It’s also true ― as I mentioned in the story ― that the medicine people and elders hold that the Maya, in turn, came from some place across the Great Sea to the East. Depending on who you talk to, this means we/they originated in Ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece, the Biblical traders of Tarshish, or even Atlantis!

So it seemed to me that it would put a fun spin on things if I had this swamp ape, this mysterious unknown creature, be something other than pure animal. As it turned out, my research into the Maya turned up a mysterious “Howler Monkey God,” one Hun-Batz by name, and an entire mythology in which this god was set. Monkey = simian, and ape =  simian, so it wasn’t a huge jump for me, to proposing a curse invoking the Son of Hun-Batz. And suddenly the whole thing congealed into this amazing, suspenseful, paranormal horror story.

How amazing and suspenseful? Well, let’s just say I literally creeped myself out. I’m a night owl, prone to insomnia and getting up in the night to putter around until I can fall back asleep. And I immediately discovered that I didn’t enjoy that anymore; I had a constant feeling that there might be...something...outside, in the yard, in the dark, watching through the windows and doors. When I did go back to bed, it was only to have lucid nightmares about the creature and the events in the book! I took to closing the curtains and blinds, avoiding the windows at night. Finally I gave up writing on the story after sundown, choosing to write only in the light, and hoping to get the imagery out of my head by bedtime.

I was more or less successful in that. I find that I still do better not to think about the book at night, and I still have the blinds and curtains closed at night. But our neighborhood is well lit with street lights, and the birds cluster in the trees around the house and sing cheerfully. So I know there’s nothing out there that they think is unusual. And that is comforting.

I don’t know that I’ll regularly write horror. I’m inclined to think, from my experiences with El Vengador, that I might not be cut out for that! Still and all, much of the science fiction mystery I do write tends to have strong elements of both paranormal and thriller, with the occasional seasoning of horror concepts thrown in for good measure. So I think I can take what I have learned from the experience and fold it back into my other works. And I think they’ll be the better for it.

And you never know. After all, my friend really did encounter…something…in the swamps of Florida…
El Vengador is an ebook available through Amazon. If you're interested, please seriously consider purchasing it today, and let's see how high we can drive the sales ranking! Best-seller? Through the roof!
-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guest Post: Thanks, Downton Abbey – You Made Me a Murderer

Yet another fascinating post by Aaron Paul Lazar. Seriously, I like this one, because I've done it and it does indeed create a stir in my fandom. I know where he's coming from.

-Stephanie Osborn

Thanks, Downton Abbey – You Made Me a Murderer
by Aaron Paul Lazar

First of all, I have to blame my mother for getting me hooked on Downton Abbey. While visiting her last November, we spent several days enjoying walks in the woods, cooking together, playing scrabble, and yes—watching Downton Abbey every evening. 

I’d heard about it, of course. But I had no idea.

I mean, NO idea. 

This series is so addictive I was riveted to the television—a very unusual situation for me, mind you. We started out with season one, and by the time I was ready to fly home I’d already ordered the first two seasons (I HAD to own them) and pre-ordered season three.

I was seriously hooked. I adored the characters. 

Bates. Mrs. Hughes. Anna. Sybil. Thomas. O’Brien. William. Daisy. Mrs. Patmore. Oh, I could list the whole darned cast here, they are all so good. If you’ve watched the show, I’m sure you know what I mean. 

There’s a lot of history and gorgeous countryside, stupendous shots of the inside of this authentic marvelous home in England. Horses. Dogs. And drama.

Oh, the drama. The superb conflict. And last, but certainly not least, the unrequited love… 

I’m a terrible sucker for unrequited love, and I feature it continuously in my mysteries, including the LeGarde, Moore, and Tall Pines series. I love the aching, the longing, the never-quite-making-it-there sensation of one loving another, but the other doesn’t quite get it. And maybe the guy really loves the gal but she thinks he hates her… you know exactly what I mean, don’t you?

There’s a slight soap opera-ish quality to the Downton Abbey storylines, but they’re much more dignified and told in such a classy setting that it doesn’t seem over-the-top, it seems just right. In Downton Abbey, one’s emotions are pulled and stretched taut in the opposite direction—usually during only one episode. 

This program is so invasive, that I couldn’t stop thinking about the huge cast of family and servants. I’d ached for resolution. I pined for the characters. I dreamt about them. 

I watched the first two seasons night after night with my wife, who to my delight also became hooked. During Christmas, all I could think of was the DVD set due in January. Season three was on its way. 

When it arrived (shortly after I finished with Murdoch Mysteries, season five, another absolutely addictive and marvelous series!), we watched every night.

That’s when the producers blew me away by starting to kill people.

Okay, so they did kill one very dear and sweet character earlier on. (I won’t mention his name here in case you haven’t watched yet.) I was heartbroken, lamenting his loss for months.

Seriously, I was SO upset. I couldn’t help but rant about it. Eventually, I got over it and realized maybe the young actor had greener pastures to pursue. I forgave the producers for killing him off.

Then—to my horror—they killed yet another character! This one was one of my all time favorites. A brave, sweet, innocent, darling girl. I was furious! My wife and I stared open-mouthed at each other, sputtering, “How COULD they?” It took a while to get used to this travesty until the last episode of season three rolled onto the screen. 

Guess what? They did it again, only this time to one of the main characters who had shaped the series from day one. A MAJOR character, one without which you could never imagine the series going forward.

As a writer, I’ve been thinking about how much this upset my wife and me, and all our family and friends who also follow Downton Abbey. We talked about it for days, still horribly upset about the losses. 

It was at that point I started to think about how much of a splash those killings had started. Boy, did they get good press out of it. And, in my author’s brain, I started to think the unthinkable.

Should I kill off one of my main characters?

Sure, I’ve “killed” before, I write mysteries, after all. Some feature characters have been hurt or even murdered. And in For Keeps, I killed off a beloved main character, only to bring her back again through some pretty fancy time-travel footwork into Sam Moore’s past. But in general, I have promised my readers “I’ll never hurt or kill one of the main characters you have come to love” in either LeGarde Mysteries, Moore Mysteries, or Tall Pines Mysteries. 

I seriously wondered if I should I break my promise.

When this all turmoil and upheaval in Downton Abbey took place, I was smack dab in the middle of writing my seventeenth book, the fourth in my Tall Pines Mystery series. (Book 1: For the Birds (2011, Twilight Times Books); Book 2: Essentially Yours (2012, Twilight Times Books), Book 3: Sanctuary (coming soon); book 4: Murder on the Sacandaga). 

I started to consider doing away with Quinn (Marcella’s beautiful Seneca husband), or Sky (her ruggedly handsome ex-beau from her youth), or Callie (my protagonist’s agoraphobic best friend). 

I pondered the impact of how these deaths would shape the future of the series. How would the dynamics change? Would it be too dark? Too maddening? Too damned sad?

I expanded my sights to Copper, the six-foot tall black policewoman with an attitude who had rescued Callie from her sadness and become her soul mate and partner. After all Callie had endured—and her past traumas were extreme—could I now deprive her of the one woman she’d found to love? 

I decided to do it. 

I wrote the chapter. The serial killer went on a rampage and in the heat of trying to escape, killed Copper.

I kept going, not allowing myself to think too much. But inside, I kept thinking how could I do that? What’s Callie going to do? She’ll be totally destroyed! 

Since I did this horrific thing, I’ve been second-guessing myself to the point of obsession. I’m already obsessed to the point of lunacy about my characters, but this is getting bad, really bad.

I might “undo” it now. I think I have complicated the plot a little too much with this murder. On top of all the other poor victims of the serial killer… it may be just too much.

So, thank you, Downton Abbey, for messing up my focus and making me into a senseless murderer. 

(And seriously, thank you Downton Abbey for giving us such a thrill ride this year!)

As to which one(s) of MY books I've killed off characters?

Well, you'll just have to read and find out, won't you?

(insert maniacal laughter here)

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Guest Blog: On Bluebeard, by Theodora Goss

There has been a bit of a hoopla in SF fandom in the last few weeks/months over gender roles in novels - by writers, artists, editors, and publishers. As a woman in the space program, as a young woman aiming for the space program, I have had to deal with everything from, "Well, your high school aptitude tests show that you have some considerable scientific skill. We recommend you become...a nurse," to having a male colleague walk into my office, close the door, and wholly unexpectedly grab my breasts (somehow thinking that, in doing so, he was paying me a compliment), to reporting sexual harassment and finding that I was the one they were considering firing, and more...this is the sort of thing I have had to deal with to get where I am - which is still not where I WANT to be. (Give me time.)

Theodora Goss' blog post speaks to the differing ways that men and women view certain (not all) situations and why, and with her permission I repost it for you here in its entirety (saving only the illustrations, which unfortunately did not want to port).

-Stephanie Osborn


On Bluebeard

By Theodora Goss

This blog post is really about how differently men and women can perceive certain things, but I didn’t think that would make a very good title. And Bluebeard does come into it, as you’ll see.

Some time ago, a friend of mine whom I will call Nathan, because his name is Nathan, and I were having a conversation. Nathan is a big, strong guy, about twice my size. He told me that when he had lived in New Orleans, he had loved walking around the city alone, late at night. I said to him, “Nathan, I’ve never walked around a city alone late at night.” There was a moment of silence, and then he said something like, “Oh, right. Sometimes I forget how different it must be for a woman.”

I’m writing this post in part because there have been conversations recently, in the media and on the internet, that have made clear how differently men and women can perceive certain words and actions. Some of those conversations have been about the literary world I live in, particularly the fantasy and science fiction corner of it. And the point I want to make, centrally in this blog post, is that something that may not seem threatening to a man may seem profoundly threatening to a woman. I’ll give you an example.

Scenario: A woman passes a man on the street. He says, “Hello, beautiful.”
How the man perceives this: “I paid her a compliment.”
How the woman perceives this: “Is he going to attack me?”

I don’t know if this is true for all women, in all circumstances, but if I’m the woman in that scenario, particularly if I’ve been walking down that street absorbed in my own thoughts, as soon as I’m spoken to I will immediately check my surroundings. What time of day is it? Is there anyone else on the street? How threatening does the man seem? (Although I have to add, if I am completely honest, that I never walk down a street lost in thought. I used to when I was younger. I’m smarter now.)

When I teach my class on fairy tales, I ask students about the moral of “Bluebeard.” Charles Perrault gives us a moral, clearly marked “moral,” at the end of the tale: “Curiosity, in spite of its appeal, often leads to deep regret. To the displeasure of many a maiden, its enjoyment is short lived. Once satisfied, it ceases to exist, and always costs dearly.” I ask my students, is that really what we learned from the story?

No, they tell me. That moral doesn’t make sense. If Bluebeard’s wife hadn’t been curious, she would never have known that he had killed his previous wives. And although he tells her that he’s going to kill her because of her curiosity, and we can infer that he killed most of his other wives for the same reason, what about the first wife? Why did he kill her? Clearly this is a man who simply likes killing his wives, and will eventually think of a reason to kill again. So, I ask them, what is the moral? And eventually we come up with something like this:

“Make sure you know whom you’re marrying, because your husband may be a serial killer.”

If you’re a woman, and you’ve lived for a while in the world, you’ve learned to be cautious. You’ve learned that you don’t know who people are, or what they’re capable of, until you’ve known them for a long time, and sometimes not even then. If a man is bothering a woman, it’s easy for another man to say “Ignore him. He’s just a creep.” Or “He lacks social skills.” But the woman in that situation has to approach it by thinking, what is the worst case scenario? What is the worst that could happen? And then she has to act based on that supposition. Often that means acting swiftly, decisively, with maximum effect. Because you have to establish, definitively, that you are not to be messed with.

She will be told, “You’re overreacting.” But she will also know that if something does happen, if there is a worst case scenario, she will be told, “You should have paid attention to the warning signs.” Either way, she faces the possibility of being blamed.

Let’s go back to that first scenario, with the woman walking down the street. If the man who thought he had paid her a compliment knew that she was assessing him as a potential attacker, he might blame her: he might say, why didn’t she realize that I was trying to be nice? What he wouldn’t know is how many times she had been approached on a street by a man who said, “Hello, beautiful,” and then continued with a sexual proposition. For an average woman, it would be a least once, but probably more than once. After a while, if you’ve been living while female, you get a sort of PTSD. Most women have been through assaults of various kinds. (I once looked up from reading a book in the public library to see a man masturbating on the seat across from me. I think I must have been about fourteen?) Most women have dealt with some sort of silencing or discrimination. (When I was at Harvard Law School, there were male students who argued that women who were going to take time off to have and care for children were taking up space that should go to qualified men.) This history conditions how they respond, whether to a compliment on a street or to male writers who talk about them with a lack of respect (see the latest SFWA scandal). (It’s also worth knowing that women talk to one another: we know when a male writer regularly hits on young female writers at conventions.)

“Bluebeard” has been interpreted in a variety of ways, but its simplest meaning is a cautionary one, to women. What it really says is, be curious, be bold, protect yourself. Considering the things women have to deal with, it’s scarcely surprising that they have learned this particular lesson.

I know I’ve put a lot into this blog post, and parts of it may not fit together with perfect logic. But it represents a series of things I’ve been thinking recently about differences in perception. If you’re a man and want to work or socialize with women, it’s probably worth considering how their perception may be different from yours, and what may lie behind that difference.

I know that Theodora's original blog got several troll posts, and I will not be surprised if that occurs here as well. Should that occur, it will be met with all the respect it deserves. Just like people that try to put me (and by extension, other editors, writers, publishers etc.) down merely because of my (our) gender.
-Stephanie Osborn


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Guest Blog: How I Met Quinn Hollister, of Tall Pines Mysteries, by Aaron Paul Lazar

This week we're going to have a guest blog by fellow Twilight Times Books author, Aaron Paul Lazar. Enjoy!

-Stephanie Osborn


How I Met Quinn Hollister, of Tall Pines Mysteries
by Aaron Paul Lazar

Quinn Hollister was born amidst unexpected chaos.

I met the protagonist of the Tall Pines Mysteries series when I was laid off from Kodak in 2009 after nearly thirty years of service. I’ll never forget it. The angst. The shock. The feelings of betrayal. And yes, the extra time for writing that was one of the many unexpected blessings associated with the layoff.

Quinn and the love of his life, Marcella, her mother, Thelma, and their bird, Ruby, surprised me right around that same time by appearing in a dream. 

I know, how clichéd can you get? But it’s true. The dream was vivid and enticing, depicting a luxurious bird resort in the Adirondacks, and a little tangerine-red bird named Ruby who snuggled on my shoulder and won my proverbial heart. 

I’ve never owned a bird. I never knew a bird, aside from those morning doves outside my window. And until this happened, I never thought about birds.

From this bewildering dream the Tall Pines Mystery series developed. And with it, Quinn Hollister, the bird’s owner and husband of my female protagonist. 

Life was quite tumultuous at this point, as you can probably imagine, with me constantly on the hunt for engineering work for the day job, but in spite of the trying circumstances of worrying about survival and putting food on the table, I also had some free time to travel locally. 

In a strange and convoluted way, the layoffs opened up a new world of opportunity, including the birth of this new, totally unplanned, third mystery series set in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, as well as the creation of Quinn Hollister. (the other two series are LeGarde Mysteries [10 books] and Moore Mysteries [3 books])

My wife and I found a cabin overlooking the Sacandaga River in Hope, New York. It was inexpensive, relaxing, and a perfect setting for a mystery. We fell in love with the majestic beauty of the area, especially the soft, cleansing waters of the Sacandaga River over which the rustic cabin perches. 

Quinn evolved slowly. At first he was an OCD Italian name Joe, until a friend pointed out that he resembled a popular TV character in the Monk series. 

I’d never heard of Monk and rarely watched television, but I didn’t want the world thinking I’d copied his persona. So, I encouraged this character to evolve.
Probably because I’d been obsessing lately over my own somewhat distant Native American heritage, Quinn morphed into a tall, serene, half-Seneca antique collector with clear turquoise eyes bequeathed to him by his long-dead English playwright father. Married to Marcella, his wife of eight years, he adores her and manages to drive her nuts at the same time with his borderline case of OCD. This gentle man moves with grace, builds sweat huts, and wears in his glossy black hair long. He swims every morning in Honeoye Lake and likes things evenly spaced and on plan. Piles of magazines must be neatly stacked, forks and knifes should be aligned and parallel, socks need to be neatly separated by color in the drawer, and if a stock pot isn’t clean upon inspection, it will be rewashed without discussion. 

I’ve grown quite fond of Quinn and his family, and I feel terrible about what I’ve put them through. Especially in this last book, MURDER ON THE SACANDAGA (est. 2014/2015 release). 

Quinn loves Marcella. He’d do anything for her, including putting up with her very annoying mother, Thelma, who lives with them. But there’s one thing he doesn’t like one bit, and that’s Marcella’s long time association with her former lover, Sky Lissoneau. 

Sky—Marcella’s first sweetheart—proposed to her twenty years ago after her college graduation. Alas, she broke his heart when she lovingly declined, deciding to pursue her operatic singing career in New York City instead of marrying him. Completely devastated, Sky joined the military and eventually went MIA, where for eighteen years friends and family agonized over his safety. 

In Essentially Yours, book two in the Tall Pines series, life changes in a most surprising way when Sky’s backpack arrives on the doorstep jammed with a mysterious collection of essential oils, a password-protected memory stick, a bag of emeralds, and a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets. After an intense adventure involving an evil drug company and a possible cure for leukemia, Sky shows up. While it’s confusing to Marcella (she still has feelings for him, but loves her husband at the same time), Sky’s return spikes jealousy in Quinn, and ultimately this homecoming causes a great deal of grief and what ends up being a tantalizing trio filled with plenty of sexual tension.

Coming back to the subject of my current work in progress, MURDER ON THE SACANDAGA, I really do feel bad about what I did to Quinn in this story. I tore a rift between him and his wife, and almost destroyed their marriage. 

What’s wrong with me? Why did I allow such conflict between two happily married people? Didn’t they have enough problems with the big evil drug company chasing them all over the mountains, trying to kill them? 

Frankly, I still blame Downton Abbey, which I have recently claimed made me into a virtual  murderer. (You can read about it here if you wish.) I’m afraid being exposed
to all kinds of family drama pushed me into a mode I hadn’t yet experienced. Great conflict, high tension, and lovely surprises. Horrible deaths of beloved characters. 

(Evil chuckle) Did I tell you I loved it?

In time, my characters and I both found resolution to our problems. After a year of searching, the perfect day job arrived. I am now happily employed at a small German company. Our Rochester office has four employees and an office dog. How cool is that, right?

In the end of MURDER ON THE SACANDAGA, I allowed Quinn and Marcella to make up, and to forge ahead in the world I’ve created for them in the Tall Pines Mystery series. Who knows what book five will hold? I hope I’m not too hard on them. After all, they need to carry on for many more books to come. And I really do have to live with myself. Somehow. ;o)


Twilight Times Books by multi-award winning, Kindle bestselling author, Aaron Lazar: 
LEGARDE MYSTERIES DOUBLE FORTÉ (print, eBook, audio book) UPSTAGED (print, eBook, audio book)    TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON (print, eBook, audio book) MAZURKA (print, eBook, audio book) FIRESONG (print, eBook, audio book) DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (coming 2013)
VIRTUOSO (~2014)
MOORE MYSTERIES HEALEY'S CAVE (print, eBook, audio book) TERROR COMES KNOCKING (print, eBook, audio book) FOR KEEPS (print, eBook, audio book)
TALL PINES MYSTERIES FOR THE BIRDS (print, eBook, audio book coming 2013) ESSENTIALLY YOURS (print, eBook, audio book) SANCTUARY (coming, 2013)

WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volumes 1, 2, 3 (ebooks and audio books)

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 DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (2013), SANCTUARY (2013), and VIRTUOSO (2014).

HONORABLE MENTION Eric Hoffer 2013 GRAND PRIZE * FINALIST 2013 EPIC Book Awards  * FINALIST 2012 FOREWORD BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARDS * Finalist DaVinci Eye Cover Award 2013 * WINNER 2011 EPIC Book Awards, BEST Paranormal * FINALIST 2011 FOREWORD BOOK AWARDS * WINNER 2011 Eric Hoffer BEST Book, COMMERCIAL FICTION *Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Top 10 Reads for 2012 * 2X FINALIST Global eBook Awards 2011 * Preditors & Editors Readers Choice Award – 2nd place 2011* Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s Top 10 Books of 2012 * Winner of Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s 9th Annual Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize for Literature 2011 * Finalist Allbooks Editor’s Choice Awards 2011 * Preditors&Editors Top 10 Finalist  * Yolanda Renée's Top Ten Books 2008  * MYSHELF Top Ten Reads 2008  * Writer’s Digest Top 101 Website Award 2009-2012