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Monday 18 July 2016

ℚ♫ Free of Malice - Liz Lazarus

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with debut author to talk about Free of Malice (, Mitchell Cove Publishing LLC, 276 pages), a Mystery Thriller.

"False scares and misdirection keep readers off guard, but suspense isn't the primary draw here.  The book, instead, is more interesting and educational as a hypothetical courtroom drama as Thomas meticulously lays out myriad case scenarios had Laura shot her attacker.

There is plenty of fodder for discussion about gun ownership, the right to protect oneself, and the judicial system.  The book also delves into the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapeutic techniques.  Lazarus writes with authority in these sections that deal with the emotional and psychological wounds wrought by attempted violence against women."
--Kirkus Reviews

Author Q&A | Synopsis | Trailer | Teaser | About the Author | Giveaway & Tour Stops

A very warm welcome to Liz Lazarous; thank you for joining us on BooksChatter!

We love music, and on this occasion Liz Lazarus has told us about Let Me Breathe, by her good friend singer Thomas Barnette, which is featured in Free of Malice - enjoy!

What was the inspiration for Free of Malice?
"Like the main character, I was attacked by a stranger in my home in the middle of the night.  In order to heal, I started to write about how I was feeling and what had changed in my life.  At the time, I didn't know about EMDR therapy to heal from trauma, so used writing as a catharsis.

Also like the main character, all I had for self-defense was a can of Mace.  After the attack, I said to my brother-in-law, if I had owned a gun, I would have shot the guy as he left.  My brother-in-law informed me that I was fortunate that I didn't - as the shooting might not have been a clear case of self-defense.  That idea sparked my interest in learning about the criminal justice system and inspired me to write the hypothetical case portrayed in the book.

The ending, which I won't spoil, was prompted by a question from my mother.  Once you've finished the book, you can write to me at and I'll tell you more about that."
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"Like Laura, I went to Georgia Tech for an engineering degree, though I graduated. Laura transferred to the University of Georgia for a journalism degree. Also like Laura, I live in Atlanta, have an older sister and lost my dad to a heart attack. I suppose all writers have portions of ourselves in the characters we portray, which makes us vulnerable but was the only way I knew to tell the story and be authentic."
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover for Free of Malice - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"There’s a funny story about the man’s profile on my book cover.  Years ago when I was at work, one of my colleagues decided to be silly and Xeroxed 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 graphics designer, Tracy Glenn, to use as the inspiration for the profile on the book.

Some people thought the profile shot was of Thomas, as in Thomas Barnette, my college friend and favorite singer who created the book’s theme song, Let Me Breathe.  They do look similar, and yes his CD cover is a profile shot, but that was some unexpected 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. :-)

As 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 as it was already part of our Website design and has significance in the book for two reasons.  First, the Laura character takes shooting lessons at Sandy Springs Gun Club and Range and practices with a target.  Secondly, Laura’s attacker had what looked like a bullseye on the back of his shirt—she got a glimpse of it as he ran away.

We offered up two choices of bulls-eye designs via social media and asked for votes.  (Thanks to Jill Dible of Jill Dible Design for options A and B.)  Surprisingly, the race was nearly 50/50, but I had a stronger preference for Option A because it “pops”.

One 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.  But maybe the eerie profile and the colorful bullseye will be enough to intrigue you to take a peek inside."
Why should we read Free of Malice and what sets it apart from the rest? What makes your book unique?
"One of the best compliments I received was that my book was educational while entertaining. It has a lot of information about therapy, gun ownership and the criminal defense system, but wrapped into a suspenseful thriller. I wrote it to be a fun beach read…and maybe a movie!"

Can you tell us something quirky about Free of Malice, its story and characters?

"The young, black lawyer character in my book is loosely based on my best friend from college, Thomas Barnette.  We met our first day at Georgia Tech when we both got lost trying to find the civil engineering building and we’ve been close ever since.  Back then, I had no idea that Thomas was such a talented signer—he kept that part of his life hidden.  One day after we had graduated, he played a CD for me in his car and the man’s voice was amazing, kind of a Seal meets U2.  I literally didn’t believe it was Thomas so he had to sing to me to prove it. From that day on, we talked about producing a music CD.  Ironically, right after I took my leave of absence from work to write my book, a check arrived for some salary I had deferred and it was the exact amount we needed for the CD.

In my novel, the lawyer character takes the stage at Eddie’s Attic, one of the many Atlanta locations that I feature.  Here, readers can either pull out their QR app and hear the real Thomas singing Let Me Breathe or go to my website, and hear it online.  To me, it adds another dimension to the book, to hear the character’s voice.  Thomas also sang at my launch party and we are planning a few joint events throughout the year."
Who would you recommend Free of Malice to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
"The response has been humbling. I joke that you can’t tell if your baby is ugly and I had no way to measure my own work.  But, when strangers write such positive notes on Amazon and Goodreads, I’m really blown away.  Right now, we’re at nearly 90 reviews on Goodreads with a 4.5/5.0 stars which is amazing.

There are a few groups that have really “taken” to the book.
  1. Book clubs – I’ve had a few book clubs tell me that they had the most vigorous debates after reading Free of Malice.  Here’s one quote, “Our book club read this first novel by Liz Lazarus and this was by far one of the BEST discussions that I have ever experienced!!! The twists in this book will have you second guessing until you get to the end.”
  2. Attack survivors – because part of the book is based on a true event, when I was attacked in college, I wrote about the after-effects to heal.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was writing the beginning of my book.  I’ve had several rape survivors tell me the book was cathartic, that they felt more normal after reading my book because some of the neurosis they felt was shown in the Laura character, too.  That said, I do briefly describe the attack so want to give a warning about that part. It’s only a few pages and, luckily, I (and Laura) fought the guy off, but want to be sure readers know about that part in advance.
  3. Women interested in guns & self-protection – I’ve spoken to several groups in this category and they have been so receptive and supportive, particularly when I share tips I’ve learned about self-protection and gun safety.
  4. One group I expected to hear more from was the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapists since this unique therapy is depicted in the book.  That said, we haven’t diligently approached that group yet so maybe it’s just a matter of time.  One of my favorite endorsements does come from an EMDR therapist, “Utterly absorbing! Integrates state-of-the-art psychotherapy techniques with all the elements of a classic thriller.”"
If you could / wished to turn Free of Malice into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"For Laura, the lead female, I have always thought about Jennifer Garner or Jessica Alba.

For Chris, the husband, Ben Affleck or Josh Duhamel. (Alas, when I wrote the book, Jennifer & Ben were still together—it would have been so neat to have them be the lead couple, and even have Ben direct the film since I loved his direction & acting in Argo!)

For Barbara, the therapist, Linda Evans or Barbra Streisand.  And, for Thomas, well either the real Thomas Barnette or an aspiring African American actor (say that fast 5 times!).  What’s your vote?

I actually have potential actors for the main characters on my Pinterest page.  At some point, maybe we’ll have a poll to see who the readers would choose?

The book is set in Atlanta so I’d definitely want to film it in “Hollywood East” as we say, and even use some of the locations in the book – Eddie’s Attic, Fat Matt’s, Davio’s.

Eddie’s Attic Fat Matt’s Davio’s
Like Stephenie Meyer in Twilight, maybe I’d get a cameo?"
What do you like to write and read about?  Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?
"I like to read biographies, self-help and thrillers – an eclectic combination I suppose.  For fiction, I pretty much stick to thrillers and have so enjoyed meeting some of my favorite authors – Mary Kubica & Jessica Knoll."

What is your writing process?
"Free of Malice takes place over 6 months, from June to December.  As strange as it may sound, I didn’t write the book in order.  Like most authors, I outlined the story so I had the sequence of events laid out.  Then, because I’m a fairly visual person, I used a huge wall calendar to outline the six months in which the book took place, listing all the events that occurred which helped me arrange the story and also allowed me to circle back to clues I had dropped in earlier chapters.

And though I don’t have a law degree and am not a trained therapist, I had the great fortune to consult with a criminal defense lawyer (Alison Frutoz) and a certified EMDR therapist (Karen McCarty) to be sure those portions of the book were accurate.  Spoiler alert – don’t read the calendar too closely—might give away some clues!"
What is in store next?
"I’m so honored that readers are asking for more, as Free of Malice is my debut novel.  I’ve been thinking about the next book and some of my signature items to include:
  • Sympathetic protagonist
  • Self-defense training & gun ownership
  • Criminal defense element
  • Science or technology element
  • Twist ending
I have the working title and plot, but still a ways to go – so stay tuned!"
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"My cat, Buckwheat, is my one of my favorite things in life.  We adopted him from the animal shelter when he was 2.  My fiancé wanted a kitten but I wanted an older cat, one not likely to be chosen.  When they took him from the cage and handed him to me, he immediately stopped whining and rested his head on my arm.  “This is my cat,” was all I could think.  Angelina Jolie says that your children find you.  Well, my pet found me and he is the sweetest, most entertaining animal I’ve ever met.  Even non-cat lovers take a shining to him.

His full name is Prince Buckwheat Toro Lazarus Brakewood.  Prince because he rules the house and Toro because he rams his head into doors to open them."

Hello Buckwheat!  You are a wonderfully handsome boy :-)
Thank you for sharing him with us and for taking the time to be with us today!

Free of Malice
Available NOW!

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Nikolina said...

I really enjoyed reading your interview, thank you!

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Nikolina. What a cool name you have!

CJ said...

Another great interview! Thank you for sharing it with us! :)