Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries, Moore Mysteries, and Tall Pines Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at www.legardemysteries.com and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, Firesong (2011), Terror Comes Knocking (2011), For the Birds (2011), Essentially Yours (2012) and Don’t Let the Wind Catch You (2012).
Q: When did you start writing mysteries?
A: During my late teens and twenties I always knew I wanted to write a mystery series some day. It’s odd, because the writing bug hadn’t really hit me at that point. But in the back of my mind I just assumed I’d do it some day. I pictured it happening later, maybe in retirement. (I still had to finish college, get a job, get a house, raise my kids in a safe environment, etc.). As I matured through my thirties, I continued to devour all of the series mysteries I could read. These writers were my teachers, so to speak.
I didn’t commit to the LeGarde series until my father died, in 1997. The agony of the loss sent me into a tailspin. I’d lost eight family members and friends in the previous five years, and his death was the final straw. I needed something to help me release the pain, and decided that a series dedicated to my dad would be just the ticket. After writing Double Forté, I was completely bitten by the writing bug. And it hasn’t stopped pestering me since.
I understand the latest installment in the LeGarde mystery series, Firesong, has just been released. What is your protagonist, Gus LeGarde, up to this time?
Gus juggles more troubles at one time in this book than he has in his entire series. Here’s a blurb:
What would you do if your country church was hit by a rogue tornado during services? What if the shrieking winds unearthed the bones of a missing parishioner in a nearby wheat field? Now add the discovery of heroin in your elderly minister’s bloodstream. When Gus LeGarde is thrown into the middle of the mess, he knows life’s finally gone berserk in East Goodland, New York.
The Genesee Valley is in chaos. Strangers drive panel vans through the countryside at weird hours of the night. A new batch of drugs is on the street, endangering local. The local salt mine collapses due to illegal mining practices. Gas fires burn in wells. Watering holes turn to brine. Crops are dying. Tempers are short. To top it off, the new salt mine lies directly over ancient Indian burial grounds, bringing anguish to local tribes.
While Gus faces ordeals delivered by nature and man, his wife Camille discovers a hidden room in their house. She digs through historical archives to learn that the 1811 original homeowner, Mary Hill, may have had connections with the Underground Railroad. When local grave robbers begin to loot historic coffins, they find an empty coffin. Who killed Mary? How did she die? Where is her body? And where will this 200-year-old mystery lead?
Join Gus as he’s lured into a bizarre network of underground tunnels to expose the most shocking discovery ever to rock the Genesee Valley.
Besides being an amateur sleuth, Gus is a music professor. He also loves gardening, cooking, and is a big family man. How did you create this character?
Gus LeGarde is based partially on my father, and partially on me. He’s a strange amalgam of us both, and has also grown into a unique person all his own at the same time. My father was an avid musician, gardener, cook, animal lover, and family man. Of course, so am I. People who read the series see “me” in it, but I see my father. It’s rather fun.
I always say “Gus LeGarde is a better man than me.” That’s because he can run through the woods to chase villains without getting out of breath, hold his own in a nasty fist fight, play a superb Chopin etude (I’m hopeless), garden, teach, inspire his students, and he juggles all of these adventures while still caring for his family. I admire his stamina!
How important is plotting a mystery in advance for mystery writers?
Some folks plot in advance with great detail. I admire that. And I’m a little jealous of them! In my case it ends up not being all that important. The story comes as it wants to, flying out of my head without much advance notice. I simply document the process by keeping my fingers moving. ;o)
What would you say are the main elements of a great mystery story?
In any genre, my firm opinion is that you need to have strong, memorable characters firmly rooted in a great setting with a plot that rings true. Or close to true! Providing clues that are reasonable up front is essential, but they shouldn’t be so obvious that they give away the ending. Twists and turns are a lovely addition – I particularly like to use this ploy. In addition, mysteries need to establish right off the bat some aching need in their readers to discover what happened, who killed whom, or what is going to happen as a result of it. There must be a burning question that needs resolution. I also believe a mystery needs a good setting, with a very strong sense of place. And it goes without saying that the writing must be smooth and polished, and that the dialogue must be real.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
On average, it takes me about two to three months working an hour or two per day. That doesn’t include the post-edits that come when we get closer to publication, of course. Those may require another month or so of intense work.
Do you suffer from writer’s block at times? What do you do to ‘cure’ it?
Sometimes I feel a little burned out, and when that happens, I just put away the laptop and live life for a while. I submerge myself in all things around me, listen to conversations at the grocery store, cook family feasts, garden in the sun, watch some great movies, play with my grandkids. Usually it takes less than a week to stir up the juices and get the stories percolating again.
Who are your favourite mystery authors?
Here are a few: John D. McDonald, Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Dick Francis, Clive Cussler, Laurie R. King, Rex Stout, Peter Mayle, and Tony Hillerman.
How do you balance writing and editing your novels with marketing and promotion?
This is the toughest part of my career right now, Mayra. In the beginning, I just wrote. I was hardly online at all, and I lived for the next book. I wrote 5 books in row before I even thought about getting published. But now – many years later – I go through phases of massive creation following by months of promotion. I don’t like this at all, and am trying to get more uniform and balanced with both. I write an article each week for my collaborative blog, Murderby4.blogspot.com. I try to twitter multiple times per day all week (pre-scheduled with Twuffer.com). I respond to fan mail and help young authors get started. And when a new book is coming out, I try to create a buzz in advance with virtual book tours, etc. Frankly, I wish I could go back to those early days when it was all pure fun. But then again, I’d have no readers, would I?
What tips would you give aspiring mystery writers?
Here are a few tips: Less is more. Avoid adverbs and use stronger verbs. Avoid a bunch of useless phrases that are not needed but commonly used. Also, expect and welcome rejection. If you aren’t receiving lots of rejection notices, you aren’t submitting enough. Eventually one of them will pan out. Keep writing. The more you write, the more your skills develop. And one day it will all come together with your first book deal! (I’ve posted many of these tips on my website www.legardemysteries.com in the “Free articles and essays” section with detailed examples, etc.)
I often encourage writers (and everyone!) to “take pleasure in the little things”. No matter what’s happening in your life, if you appreciate the gifts that God has given us, all will be okay.
Open your eyes. Reel it all in. Absorb the beauty around you, whether it is the flash of love in an old woman’s eye, the ping of a cooling woodstove, the touch of a child’s hand, or the fragile petal of a white violet. Allow yourself to be in that moment, record it in your soul, and play it back for your readers for the ultimate connection.
Thanks, Mayra, for having me here today. It’s been so much fun! Following is a list of my books, blogs, and awards. If anyone needs to contact me, you can email me at aaron dot lazar at yahoo dot com.
Twilight Times Books by Kindle bestselling author Aaron Lazar:
Double Forte’ (2004, new version coming 2012)
Upstaged (2005, new version coming 2012)
Tremolo: Cry of the Loon (2007)
Firesong (COMING SOON! JULY 2011)
Don’t Let the Wind Catch You (COMING SOON! APRIL 2012)
Healey’s Cave (2010)
Terror Comes Knocking (2011)
For Keeps (2012)
Tall Pine Mysteries
For the Birds (COMING SOON! OCTOBER 2011)
Essentially Yours (COMING SOON! MARCH 2012)
Preditors & Editors Readers Choice Award – 2nd place 2011* Winner of Carolyn Howard Johnsons’ 9th Annual Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize for Literature 2011 * Finalist Allbooks Editors Choice Awards 2011 * Preditors&Editors Top 10 Finalist * Yolanda Renee’s Top Ten Books 2008 * MYSHELF Top Ten Reads 2008 * Writers’ Digest Top 101 Website Award 2009 & 2010