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Liz Lazarus and Thomas Barnette. - Free of Malice

My favorite character in “Free of Malice”

I was recently asked who was my favorite character in my book, “Free of Malice.” Some folks thought it would be Laura, the protagonist, but it’s actually the criminal defense attorney, Thomas Bennett.

Do we love him or hate him? Do we trust him or suspect him? And why is he doing pro-bono work for a journalist – what’s in it for him? At one point, Laura says, “he sounded sincere, but there was this little nagging voice inside of me—aren’t most psychopaths also charmers?”

My editor, Jan Risher, may have said it best, “This book is not a traditional whodunit. The author pulled off a tough balance of having me both suspect yet somehow root for the lead male character.”

My best friend from college, Thomas Barnette (not a psychopath, by the way), was my inspiration for the lawyer character. He and I met our first day at Georgia Tech – we were both lost trying to find the civil engineering building – and we’ve been friends ever since. We make an odd pair, I’ll admit – he’s a black, gay, Christian guy and I’m a white, straight, Jewish gal, but we have that kind of connection where I’ll be thinking about him and the phone will ring.

We were so focused on our studies at school that I didn’t really learn about Thomas’ creative side until after we graduated. One day he popped a CD into the player in his car and asked what I thought. The singer reminded me of a cross between Lionel Richie and Seal and I really liked it. When Thomas said it was him, I didn’t believe him at first. He actually had to start singing in the car to convince me.

From that point on we talked a lot about him cutting a full CD. He already had quite a few of the songs, many of which he wrote, but there were also some covers. So, one day I pulled out my computer and started tallying up the work ahead of him to finish the CD – the mixing, mastering, photos, production, etc. and came to a number. The next day, I kid you not, I received a check in the mail for some deferred salary for nearly the exact number. I took it as a divine sign and we were off to producing his debut album.

An author’s viewpoint

In my book, the Thomas character takes Laura to hear him sing at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta. At that point, you can pull out your QR reader or go to my website,, and hear the first song from his album, “Let Me Breathe.” I thought it would be an added treat for the reader to get to hear Thomas’ voice, plus he sang at my launch party and we are doing a few joint events around town to promote the book and the CD.

Who knew when our paths crossed that first day of college that we would have such an enduring friendship and that we’d find a way to blend our creativity and support one another. So, my favorite character – was based on one of my favorite people.

Building Communities with Little Free Library

Liz Lazarus | Free of Malice | Little Free Library

During a walk in my neighborhood, I noticed that one of my neighbors had installed a Little Free Library in their yard. This delightful mini-library-on-a-post is a welcome addition to our block. I stepped forward and opened the clear Plexiglas door to take a closer peek at the books inside. There was a range of titles from children’s books to contemporary fiction and some thrillers! As I stood here admiring the collection a woman approached me and introduced herself as the steward of this Little Free Library.

She shared how thrilled she was to a part of this sharing movement. The Little Free Library is based on the honor system encouraging anyone to take a book, leave a book. Not only does the Little Free Library encourage people to share their favorite stories, it also aims to build a sense of community and spark conversation.

Background on Little Free Libraries

When I returned home I did a little research on the history of Little Free Libraries. Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin created little Free Libraries in 2009. They are built on a model of a one-room schoolhouse. It was a tribute to his mother; she was a teacher who loved to read. He filled the little library with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS. Rick Brooks of UW-Madison saw Bol’s do-it-yourself project while they were discussing potential social enterprises. Together, the two saw opportunities to achieve a variety of goals for the common good.

Their mission is: To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations.

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of As of June of 2016, there are 40,000 Libraries worldwide. With Little Free Library book exchanges in all 50 U.S. states and over 70 countries around the world. Approximately 60 percent of Little Free Library book exchanges have been built by stewards and 40 percent built and sold by Little Free Library (see their website for details).

Take a book. Return a book.

After reading the history, I was so taken by the concept of sharing and promoting literacy and reading that I used the online map feature at to find other libraries near my home in Atlanta and other locations around town. During the next several weeks, I drove around dropping off copies of my novel Free of Malice with a note inviting Little Free Library stewards to read my book and share their impressions on social media using the hashtags #FreeofMalice #LittleFreeLibrary. To honor the sharing concept, I’m donating a portion of my online book sales to the Little Free Library organization and local libraries. My story was recently featured in Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Connecting neighbors. Sharing good reads.

To take the concept of sharing to the next level, I’m inviting my social media network to participate as well. I’m giving away 10 copies of Free of Malice over the July 4th holiday to Little Free Library stewards and readers who connect with me over social media and who want to continue the cycle of sharing and caring. Tweet or email me at liz [at] lizlazarus [dot] com to indicate that you are interested in reading #FreeofMalice, and if inclined will share a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads and most importantly that you will share the book with your local Little Free Library.

You can connect with me on Facebook at AuthorLizLazarus and Twitter and Instagram using @liz_lazarus. I’m also on Goodreads at Liz Lazarus to let me know that you are interested (or that you love Little Free Libraries). Use Hashtag #LFL and #freeofmalice.

Thank you for sharing, building community and sparking conversations.

Captivating: An Evening with Mary Kubica

Mary Kubica collage
Author Book Event – Atlanta, GA

I had the pleasure of hearing Mary Kubica speak at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, GA, as part of her Don’t You Cry book tour. I connected with her on Twitter, @MaryKubica, along with my friend and fellow author Chelsea Humphrey, @suspensethrill, so we were super excited to meet her in person.

I’ve heard many authors speak, reading excerpts from their book and sharing their story, but I have to say, Mary was one of the best! During her presentation, “captivating” was the word that kept coming to my mind.

Mary shared that she loved to write as a child, but never really considered a career as an author. Like most kids, she didn’t necessarily think about the person behind the book or the possibility of writing as a vocation. She became a high school history teacher until her first child was born. She then opted to stay home and raise her baby and began writing The Good Girl. As Mary described it, something about that book felt special, the characters spoke to her. As she spoke, I found myself nodding in agreement – I’ve often felt like I was watching a movie and taking dictation as I wrote Free of Malice.

It took her nearly five years and she wrote in secrecy – I can relate here as well. It was quite a leap to let my mother and fiancé read my book. Mary had no contacts in the publishing world (ditto!) so she looked up how to query agents and got a few bites. As she noted, it’s sometimes easier to share your work with strangers than friends.

Although there was some initial interest, she didn’t get any takers, so Mary shelved her book and went on with her life. Two years later, she received a letter from an agent who asked if her book was still available. This woman had read her book when it was first submitted and had since been promoted to a position to make a decision to move forward. This was in 2012 and Mary was offered a two-book deal, with the gentle nudge that it couldn’t take another five years for her next book, which was Pretty Baby.

When she embarked on her third novel, Mary described how the characters “fought her.” She felt like an outsider looking in and didn’t seem to find a natural flow. Given the success of her first two books, this one didn’t feel worthy of following in the same footsteps and was giving her a good deal of angst. Much to her relief, Mary’s editor didn’t want to move forward with the draft so she set it aside. With a blank canvas, she quickly started writing again and that became Don’t You Cry. With a deadline looming and limited time, Mary described how she would get up at 4:30 am to write and instead of editing along the way, she just kept moving forward to advance the story. From the rave reviews, it sounds like it was a smart plan. Hearing her story was such an inspiration—to learn that she had a two-year wait to be discovered and just experienced putting an entire book aside to quickly write a new one. Amazing!

There is a great deal of tenacity and heart in that petite body of hers and I’m so thrilled to have had the chance to learn more about her and her journey as an author! Thanks to the Margaret Mitchell House for making this event happen and to Mary for stopping by Atlanta on her book tour!

Not So Vicarious Adventure: Free of Malice Launch Party

Rebecca Alora Walker enroute to the Free of Malice launch party

This is a special guest post from Rebecca Alora Walker, Book Blogger and Owner of Vicariously! She attended the Free of Malice launch party and is sharing her experience.

Prologue & Road Trip

When I received the request to review Liz’s book, I was invited to Free of Malice’s launch party because Joel and I live about two hours from the location where it was being held. We love road trips, dressing up, and spending time with each other so we were down to attend. After I’d read the book it became a MUST that we attend to support this wonderful book.

We spent the morning getting ready and made it out the door by 3:30 pm. Joel drove (as he usually does on road trips as I have some truly disastrous luck with getting in some crazy accidents) and we listened to Hamilton, singing and talking on our way.

Arrival At The Red Martini Bar & Book Launch

Free of Malice launch partyWe got there a bit late due to Atlanta traffic (and some rather hilarious situations) and quickly entered the Red Martini Bar on the red carpet. Joel and I were in awe. This bar looks like it could have been in True Blood. With opulent red walls, black accents, and dim lighting, it should have been gaudy. However, the owners knew what they were doing and the decor resulted in a classy, laid back atmosphere. It suited the launch party perfectly and everyone seemed quite happy to be there.

In Liz’s book, Free of Malice, she mentions several real life locations in Atlanta. Most of them were at the launch party. Joseph Drouhin wine was flowing free and we had the opportunity to try the bar’s signature drink, a red martini. We had amazing barbecue sandwiches from Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, tuna tartare on homemade cracker’s from Davio’s, and guests were given some truly beautiful cookies made by Allison Trueblood (Joel and I laughed at the irony) of Glorious Events.image2 (15)

Once things got going, Liz got up to give a beautiful speech where she thanked everyone who helped her with Free of Malice. She was careful to name everyone who’d made it happen professionally and personally. Her gratitude was palpable and her speech engaging, telling anecdotes and stories, each one giving a glimpse of the many people in her life.

I suffer from an anxiety disorder and Joel is the extrovert of our duo. I was very nervous to talk to the many people and kind of kept to myself at first. This didn’t last for long, however. Liz’s friends approached us, starting conversations and making us feel comfortable. Every person we talked to told us stories about Liz’s kindness, generosity, and how they knew her. Since Joel and I didn’t know Liz personally, the fact that her friends approached us helped us ease into the swing of things.

image3 (14)In the book itself and on Liz’s website, we were introduced to Thomas Barnett. He sings “Let Me Breathe” — the song mentioned in the book. I had the opportunity to speak to him and he was so kind. After Liz gave her speech, we got to listen to Thomas perform live and he did not disappoint. It was a lovely surprise and meeting the inspiration for the character Thomas Bennett was a bit of a fangirl moment for me because Thomas is one of my favorite parts of Free of Malice.

Meeting the Author

Liz Lazarus with book blogger Rebecca Alora Walker and Joel.Liz herself was absolutely stunning and humble. We had several chances to talk and interact with her. She’s a fantastic lady and her candidness further proved everything they’d said to praise her was undeniably true. A lot of people can be shy at signings or clique off with certain people, making it a bit intimidating to approach them. This was not the case with Liz. She made time for every person there and those that asked it of her. She was constantly engaged in conversation, signing books, and thanking people.

The combination of her friends, the people who helped with her book, the restaurants who catered, and Liz herself, resulted in an intimate and engaging event. I’d be very surprised if anyone left the launch feeling left out or without having a wonderful time.

Joel and I had to go and make the drive back home around 9 pm. Though the event was said to end at 9 on the invitation, when we left, Liz was still making her rounds and signing books. She thanked us for coming and we were on our way.

Three hours later we were both home and exhausted from the night and getting lost in Atlanta for a good bit. It was worth it though. We had an amazing experience.

Joel and I would like to thank Liz and her team for inviting us to the launch, as well as Liz and her friends for ensuring we had a great time and engaging with us. Be sure to check out my review of Free of Malice and get a copy.

I’ll share some of my favorite memories from the Free of Malice launch party later in the week. Until then, I hope you are reading something that captivates your imagination.  Liz

Free of Malice – The Omitted Chapter

Liz Lazarus Musing on writing fiction Free of Malice

Pondering the Omitted Chapter

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, writing a novel is not for the faint of heart. You pour your heart, soul, and creativity on to the page and hope your readers will fall in love your characters, flow with your storyline, note your realistic dialogue and gift for turning a tale. Sounds so poetic, right?

After finishing the galley for Free of Malice, my first editor suggested that I cut this chapter from the book, as it wasn’t “advancing the story”. While I agreed and nixed the chapter from the final version of the book–it resides on my computer as the omitted chapter. I peek at it periodically and wonder…did I do the right thing? Though it doesn’t necessarily advance the story, it does give more insight into the nature of the husband, Chris. As we approach the official launch of the book, I’m sharing it with you on my blog as a sneak peek. What do you think? Was it right to cut or I should have left it in?

OMITTED CHAPTER – Friday, July 7 before dinner, Houston’s parking lot

We took Chris’ charcoal Infiniti FX35 toward Buckhead and Houston’s restaurant. A crowd had already formed outside on the top deck, so Chris dropped me off at the door to put our name on the waiting list while he went in search of a parking spot in the packed lower lot below.

As I waited in line at the hostess stand, I watched Chris’ Infiniti zipping over to a spot where a yellow Volkswagen bug was about to leave. I could picture Chris tapping the steering wheel as he waited impatiently. Even his car looked restless; the blinker clicking, ready to snatch the coveted space. As the bug backed out toward Chris’ car, a black Miata darted into the space blatantly stealing the spot.

Chris’ horn blared. I could picture the gesture he must be making. A guy about 5’9″ in a black double-breasted suit got out of the driver’s side and a buxom bleached blonde in a tight red mini dress stepped out of the passenger side. The guy shouted something at Chris, flipped him off, and then he and his date walked up the stairs to the deck where I was still standing in line. Chris’ Infiniti squealed off and drove the full length of the parking lot to find another space on the far edge.

Oh, boy, he’s pissed.

From a distance, I watched my husband get out of his car and stomp toward the restaurant like a boy whose precious toys had been taken. Instead of coming straight up the stairs to me, he went out of his way to pass the Miata in the “stolen” parking space, stopped by the front of the car and then mounted the stairs.

I was now first in line at the hostess stand and waved to Chris so he would see me. He waved back and then noticed the black suit and red mini dress four people behind me. A huge grin came over his face.  

As Chris passed the couple, he deliberately bumped into the guy and said “Excuse me.” He flashed a cocky smile and then strutted up to me and kissed me on the cheek. The hostess gave us our pager, told us it would be a ninety minute wait and suggested we grab a drink. As we maneuvered toward the inside bar, Chris deliberately took my hand and led me back toward the black suit and red mini dress who were still waiting in line. He leaned over to the guy and said, “I couldn’t help but notice your front right tire looks a bit flat. You might want to check it.” A look of rage came over the guy’s face as we walked off.

“Oh no, what did you do?” I asked in a hushed voice. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. Just tell me that guy isn’t going to pour his drink on us or anything.”

“I think we’re safe, but he did steal my parking spot.”

“I saw. You didn’t let the air out of his tire, did you?”

“No, besides, carrying that tub of lard in the passenger seat will probably deflate the tire on its own.”

“Chris!” I admonished.

“Let’s forget it. You know, I will say this. There is justice in the world. Look at them, they cut me off, yet they‘re the ones still waiting in line.”

Chris’ comment resonated with me. If there was justice in the world, then I wondered what would happen to him?


What do you think? Was it right to cut the chapter or I should have left it in? 


Yours in thrill-seeking.

P.S.: Don’t you love this image? The New York Public Library has opened their digital collection to the public.

Image Credit: Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library. (1854). The Honble Mrs Norton.[frontispiece] Retrieved from

Judging a Book By Its Cover

There’s a funny story about the profile on my book cover. Years ago, one of my work colleagues decided to be silly and Xerox his face. (Let’s be glad he chose the face – could have been worse!) The picture came out so blurred and creepy that you couldn’t tell who he was. I actually saved that piece of paper and years later showed it to my graphic designer to use as the inspiration for the profile on Free of Malice.

Sweet Sam Face Artwork (1)-1

Some people thought the profile shot was of Thomas Barnette, my college friend who created the book’s theme song, Let Me Breathe. They do look similar, and yes his CD cover is a profile shot, but it’s serendipity. I actually hadn’t considered that we both used profile shots until I put the two side by side, and how interesting that they face each other! Now, if you ask Thomas, he may still swear it’s him.  

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 2.23.58 PMAs you can see, the Advance Reader Copy of Free of Malice had only the profile, and the rest of the cover was black. My thinking was that in the age of so many “busy” covers, wouldn’t a plain one stand out? But then, after receiving advice from several people (Candy Brakewood, Lynn Epstein, and Esther Levine at Book Atlanta to name a few), I decided to add more color.

The bullseye was a natural choice since it was already part of the website design and is referenced twice in the book. First, the main character, Laura, takes shooting lessons at Sandy Springs Gun Club and Range and practices with a target. Secondly, as her attacker fled, she got a glimpse of what looked like a bullseye on the back of his shirt.

Jill Dible of Jill Dible Design created two new cover designs (options A and B below). I decided to post the options on social media and ask for feedback. Surprisingly, the results were nearly 50/50. Based on several comments, I had a stronger preference for Option A with the red bullseye because it “pops” online and in person.

CoverPhoto A-BOne comment I did take to heart from the voting was that the cover doesn’t fully describe the book, and I suppose that would be a challenge for any novel. It’s true, the cover doesn’t portray Laura’s therapy and healing, her trauma and suspicion, the hypothetical legal case or the racial tension or the fact that it’s based on a true story (my own). But maybe the eerie profile and the colorful bullseye will be enough to intrigue you to take a peek inside.

What do you think of the new cover? Let me know here, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Intrigued? Download the FREE digital sneak peek of chapter one, and check out the Free of Malice trailer.