What inspires your writing?
A. Nature is a huge inspiration to me. It seems as though every image ever impressed upon my brain finds its way into my work. Whether it’s the light dancing through stained-glass windows in a Parisian chapel, curly slate-green lichen covering a boulder at the edge of a pond in Maine, or hoarfrost dangling from a cherry tree branch in mid-winter, these images burrow into my memory cells. In time they bubble back, persistently itching, until they are poured out on the page.
But that’s all part of setting the scene or creating a sense of place.
Regarding plots: the world is crammed with topics and sometimes it’s hard to narrow down all the intriguing themes for my next book. One of the ways I become inspired, however, is to watch my favorite movies. I dissect them, list the ideas that stir my imagination, and make an inventory of my favorite themes that make my heart swell. What about unrequited love? Time travel? Gentle giants falsely accused? Delicious twists that shock and surprise? Spunky lady antique dealers who save the day? Heroic animals? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! In my case, all of the above.
I keep my ears open and listen to news stories. The often unfathomable, sometimes horrific accounts will stir my creative juices. I imagine a twist on them. Then I twist it again and change its literary color or scent. I try not to worry if it’s been done before, because just about everything has been done before in one fashion or another. I try to remember to simply put my mark on it and write it with passion.
I tune in to real life dramas at work, church, or school. I think about my friend whose wife died from a rare complication of a cardiac virus, or my cousin who suffers from depression, or my daughter’s friend whose college boyfriend from Albania was suddenly deported. Real life is fertile and rich, full of angst, splendor, terror, and adventure. It offers a mosaic of ideas, and waits for you to pluck your new favorites to mix and match into a dynamic storyline.
Q. What is your favorite thing about being an author?
A. The best part of this job is meeting my readers. And even better than that, is hearing their stories about how my books actually helped or changed them. That’s the ultimate reward – whether you are told your books comforted a reader’s dying mother in the hospital, or that your book made one reader a better father, or that your books got a reader through his chemo…these are the real rewards of being an author!
Q. What is the toughest part of being an author?
A. Let’s take a specific situation here, and examine my latest book, FOR KEEPS. The toughest part of writing this mystery was feeling the pain of Sam’s loss when his wife is murdered. In the first two books of the Moore Mysteries series, Rachel sticks by Sam’s side, supports him when he’s overcome with grief and is plagued by strange paranormal events, and loves him deeply enough to keep him sane.
That’s why it really hurt when I had to kill her.
Sam’s wife, Rachel, shares many qualities with my dear wife, Dale. They both endure MS, they both love to read, they are both chair-caning artists. Some of their symptoms are the same, but that’s where they split apart. Rachel loves to cook (that’s my job in our marriage), she’s in a wheelchair, and she stays pretty upbeat, considering her challenges. They both adore their grandchildren and both love to read. Rachel’s a tribute to Dale, in all honesty. But she also has morphed into her “own woman,” too, and I love her deeply. Er... through Sam, of course. (Honey, don’t be jealous!)
In For Keeps, the third book in the series, life takes an awful turn. When Rachel is murdered by a serial killer, it puts Sam back in the psych ward, the same place he was thrown when his little brother disappeared without a trace fifty years earlier. Desperate to fix things, he calls on the power of the green marble, the talisman his little brother Billy controls from afar that whisks him back and forth through his past.
Unlike those of us in real life, Sam gets a “do over.” He flies back in time to desperately try to fix the problems that lead to this gruesome act, and over and over again, he attempts to tweak the past to bring his dear Rachel back to life.
Q. If you could not be author, what would you do/be?
A. I love this question, Emily. There are SO many other things I’d love to pursue, if I had five lifetimes to fit them all in. First of all, it goes without saying that if I could simply stay home, be with my family, work in the garden, cook for them, nurture the grandkids, hike with the dogs, (and of course, write in my spare time!), I’d be thrilled.
But there are other careers that have called to me in my past. As a teen, I wanted to be an artist. I loved drawing and doing oil pastels of faces. I also love photography, and could so happily be a nature photographer, turning out coffee table books of old barns in New York, or foggy pictures of the Finger Lakes. I’m nuts about classical music, and I’d love to be a concert pianist or violinist, or an opera singer at the Met in NYC. I also imagine coming back in another life and being a psychiatrist or therapist. I love listening to people, helping them with their problems, and just giving support to those who need it. I guess that’s why I feel I was put on this earth to tend to my beloved wife, Dale, who has multiple sclerosis. I love taking care of her and being there for her.
Q. What would the story of your life be entitled?
A. The Family Man (oops, that’s already taken!)
Q. What is your favorite book of all time?
A. I adore the books by John D. McDonald, Michael Prescott, James Patterson, Dick Francis, Clive Cussler, Laurie R. King, Peter Mayle, Tony Hillerman, and Dean Koontz. It’s so hard to choose… But I if I must, I would say To Kill a Mockingbird.
Q. Which character from ANY book are you most like?
A. I can honestly say I haven’t found “me” in anyone else’s books. But if I could choose to be like a favorite character, it would be Atticus Finch, my hero.
Q. What character from all of your books are you most like?
A. Gus LeGarde, from LeGarde Mysteries.
My readers often ask, "Are you Gus LeGarde?"
I laugh and tell them, "Hardly. Gus is a much better man than me."
I genuinely mean it when I say it. But is it really true?
When I started writing the LeGarde Mystery series, I planned to base Gus on my father - a wonderful Renaissance man and a talented pianist/music professor. At the time, he'd just passed away from cancer, and I was overwhelmed with grief. The idea of starting the series as a testimony to him was appealing, and it provided some serious therapy.
Dad and I were a great deal alike. We were passionate about French Impressionist art, nurtured huge gardens, cooked like maniacs, and loved our dogs. So, as I began to write, particularly in the first person POV, Gus ended up being a lot like me.
But am I Gus LeGarde? And is he a better man than me?
Gus and I are very much alike. So much so that my friends always think it's me in the stories, and I often get asked questions like, "What was the name of the book where you and Camille went to Europe with Siegfried?"
We do look alike. We have the same wavy dark hair with silver sprinkled at the temples. The same hazel eyes. The same shoe size. But he's twenty pounds thinner and more fit than I am. (Hey, I'm allowed to dream, right?)
Gus and I grow expansive gardens, cook lush feasts for our families, adore our grandchildren, and dote on our dogs. We're good husbands, and responsible citizens. We live in big old houses in the country, and are crazy about nature, particularly the Genesee Valley and Finger Lakes regions of upstate NY. We love to ride horses and love to swim. We devour mysteries and read in bed before going to sleep.
However - Gus can run for miles in the woods without getting an asthma attack. He can hold his own in a fistfight, lucky devil. I get out of breath walking up stairs and I've never been in a fistfight in my life. Call me a pacifist. I've always used words better than fists, I guess.
Gus also plays a flawless Chopin etude without even looking at the music. His artistry is perfect, his skills precise. I struggle through the simplest Chopin waltz.
He is drawn to trouble, ferrets out the villains, and fights to uphold honor for the common good. I struggle get through my day-to-day existence and only write about courage and upholding justice. I sure believe in it, but I don't really participate, do I?
Let's talk about church. Gus is a better parishioner than I ever was, even when I regularly attended our local Methodist church. He's on all the committees; plays organ for church services when needed at local nursing homes and prisons, and is an outstanding parish leader. I used to do some of that, until the committees took up far too much of my writing time and we lost the best pastor we'd ever had. I became discouraged and let the organized religious part of my life go - especially when my grandchildren moved in and going to church meant losing precious hours with them. Right now, they're foremost in my life. I know God understands. ;o) And I will go back to church when they're older and life settles down a little. I miss it.
Wait just a minute, now. Gus has a lot more time than me, doesn't he? Hmmm. There may be something to this line of reasoning. He lives five minutes away from his job where he teaches music at the local university. I drive one hour each way to work, twice a day. That's a lot of driving. And he teaches a few classes a day and is free to hunt scoundrels and investigate evildoers to his heart's content. I'm stuck at work at least ten hours a day.
Now I'm starting to get jealous. Which is really sick, since he's my own invention.
Gus also has Siegfried, his gentle giant brother-in-law who chops his wood, mows the lawn, feeds the livestock, and cleans out the horse stalls. Wow. Gus really has it easy. No wonder he has time to chase down the villains!
I'm warming to this angle. Let's see...
Gus has another advantage: Mrs. Adelaide Pierce! I'll admit, I always wanted the "real" Mrs. Doubtfire, and I invented Adelaide because I longed for her in my own life. During the weekdays she shops, helps with the grandkids, does mountains of laundry, cooks meals, and cleans the house. Sigh. Those jobs fall to me most of the time, since my wife is disabled. And I do lovingly care for my sweetie pie (see below), bringing her meals, monitoring her meds, and generally loving her a whole lot. We both weave chair seats on the side, to make extra money. Hey! There's something Gus can't do!
And I just thought of one more thing. I take photos. Some of them are nice. And Gus doesn't have a clue about photography. He's got a good eye for art, but he leaves the photography to his adopted father figure, Oscar Stone. But Oscar's a better photographer than me. He's published coffee table books galore. Wait a minute, let's not get off on that tangent...
We really are one and the same soul - with a few minor perturbations. His thoughts are my thoughts. When he mourns his first wife, I tap into the feelings of fear and grief I experienced when my wife almost died, when the threat of her demise hung over our family. When Gus mourns his father's passing, it's my grief he's feeling. He cherishes his grandkids like I do mine, with the same fierce sense of adoration and protection I feel toward my little buddies, Julian and Gordie. And when he picks his sun-ripened tomatoes, or his juicy plums, or his aromatic basil, he's raiding my garden. Each meal he cooks has been my real-life creation, and every book he reads I've read.
The next time a reader asks me if I'm Gus LeGarde, I might hesitate before spouting my usual answer.
After all, he may be a better man, but there is no Gus without me. ;o)
Q. What is your favorite season?
A. I am passionate about them all, find joy in every season from spring – planting time! To summer—swimming and harvesting the gardens! To fall – those amazing hikes on the Fingers Lakes trails and in the Adirondacks… Today I’ll pick winter as my favorite. I love snow, cross-country skiing or just watching it accumulate in the yard. I love cooking big stews and soups and having the family over for lunch. I adore keeping up the old woodstove and writing by the warmth of it with my dogs snuggled beside me. And I cherish the chickadees and cardinals who keep us company during the long cold months. I love winter!
Q. What inspired your book cover(s)? Or what is your favorite book cover and why?
A. My story lines inspire the covers, and I let my publisher’s wonderful artist, Ardy Scott, come up with the first concepts. She reads the books and suggests images I might not have imagined at all – so I wait until her feedback, and then I add my own ideas.
My favorite to date is the ESSENTIALLY YOURS cover, which is book two in my Tall Pines Mysteries. Set in the Finger Lakes and Adirondacks regions of New York, ESSENTIALLY YOURS pits MedicuRx, a big drug company with ties to the federal government, against essential oil pioneers who have found a potential cure for leukemia in the distilled oil found a commonly found lake weed. Ardy used one of my photographs of a lake at the top of a mountain I climbed and combined it with a rustic tree and branch kind of “frame,” including the hemp necklace that holds a vial of the precious oil. I just love the surreal look of the cover art – it is so cool! And on the back cover the artist included key elements from the story: Sky’s old backpack, a sack of diamonds, a kit of essential oils, and more. ;o)
Q. Tell me something funny that happened while on a book tour or while promoting your book.
A. Following is a blog I wrote about this very topic many years ago. It still makes me chuckle!
Tomorrow night is my first Local Writers Fair. I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. Ten authors will gather in a little room behind tables full of books in a historic library in Canandaigua, N.Y. It's been advertised heavily and the excitement has been building for weeks.
Just for this occasion, I bought a new table cover from the fabric department at Walmart. It's a deep, cobalt blue with a fine pattern. The black-framed photos of the Genesee Valley will stand out against the blue. I hemmed and hawed, solicited "how to buy this stuff" help from the nice lady behind the counter (who, by the way, is an avid mystery fan) and finally bought four yards of it. Twelve feet? Yeah, but it'll work. Better to have too much than too little. Kind of my gardening philosophy extended into the world of fabric.
Anyway, this morning I started to worry about what to wear. What to wear? Not typically a subject I get too concerned about... I looked in the closet and sighed. What do "authors" wear? Black turtlenecks and corduroys? Heck no, not for May. A plaid wool shirt and a pipe to chew on? Nope. It's spring, for goodness sakes. So, I settled on a long-sleeved black button down shirt and camel-colored Dockers.
I even took out the tooth-whitening paraphernalia last night. Me? Worried about white teeth? Well, I'm gonna be smiling all over the place. I can't have disgusting yellow teeth. So, I suffered during sleep with the set of molds on my teeth with all that white goo sliding around in my mouth. I woke up with the bottom set missing. Finally, I found it under my pillow. And no, there was no quarter from the tooth fairy.
I drove to work this morning, going through my mental checklist. Bookmarks. Books. Handouts. Poster. Scotch tape to hang the poster. Double-sided tape to keep the fabric from sliding off the table. Suddenly I felt this little itchy bump on my nose. I looked in the rear view mirror and there it was. A monstrous cold sore was forming RIGHT on top of my nose. It's a noteworthy one this time, a good quarter inch plus in size. It's gonna be a whopper. Kind of makes me look like a drunk.
So, with whitened teeth, carefully selected clothes, a beautiful table cover, I will smile and chat with this remarkably noticeable nose and hope that they look at the cover of Double Forté more than they do at my ugly mug.
I feel like I'm fourteen again...
The Writers Fair was great! All in all, our few visitors had their noses in books, rather than staring at mine.
Q. Are you working on something new?
A. Yes! I’m writing the next book in the Gus LeGarde mystery series – book seven, to be exact. It’s entitled VIRTUOSO. Art and music collide in this special edition based on my wife Dale Lazar’s ancestor, Emma Cunningham. When a handsome but decadent Greek tenor from the Eastman School of Music stalks Gus’s stepdaughter, Shelby, Gus rallies to protect her innocence. He asks for help from his old friend, Byron who works at the college. Gus and Byron become involved in an investigation dealing with a counterfeit Monet. Is the painting real, or fake? And through it all, Gus discovers a shocking tie to the past through the paintings of his great, great aunt, Emma Mabel Clark.
Q. Anything you want to say to followers of this blog or those that are just stopping by?
A. Sure! I want to say first of all, thank you to Mrs. Mommy for having me here today. And thanks to all your readers for taking a look at this interview. It was refreshing to answer these unique questions! There’s one thing I always say to my readers about life, and I’d like to repeat it here. When life gets tough, and you don’t think you can take it any more, take pleasure in the little things.
Open your eyes and absorb the beauty around you, whether it is the flash of love in an old woman’s eye, or the fragile petal of a tiny orange cinquefoil. Soak in the scenes God gives us, like the sparkle of frost on a wheat field, or the sound of birdsongs in the morning. Allow yourself to be in that moment, record it in your soul, and play it back for comfort in days to come.
If anyone would like to check out my long list of books (below) or contact me with questions, I’m always available to talk with readers via email. (aaron dot lazar at yahoo dot com). You can read excerpts or synopses from all the books at www.lazarbooks.com. Also, you may follow me on twitter: @aplazar or on Facebook: facebook.com/AaronPaulLazar.
DOUBLE FORTÉ (2012, author’s preferred edition)
UPSTAGED (coming 2012 author’s preferred edition, eBook and print)
DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (coming 2012)
FOR KEEPS (JULY 2012, AUDIO BOOK coming 2012)
FOR THE BIRDS (2011, AUDIO BOOK, coming 2012)
ESSENTIALLY YOURS (2012)
SANCTUARY (coming, 2013)