Books That Change the World

~ Books and Change ~

The ability to change is essential for survival. Those who refuse to change become dull, boring, and left behind. One force for change is literature. Ever since people learned to write and read, books have had the power to change the reader, and if read by enough people, a community, or even the world.


Think of the Bible. The Koran. The Evolution of the Species. Das Kapital. The written word has founded religions, changed how we view the human condition, and has upturned nations.

All of these works embody 5 things

  1. They address something that is important in human lives
  2. They embody great passion and conviction on the part of the authors
  3. They speak directly to their intended audiences in language they can understand.
  4. The ideas are easily understood and enthusiastically spread by their readers
  5. The ideas inspired controversy which also helped them become more widely known.

How about novels?

Can you think of a novel that has had a powerful effect on society or people’s lives? Several writers have attempted to do this.Change Quote

Bookbub lists thirty-two novels starting with To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, 1984, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The World Economic Forum chose nine books, moving Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the top of the list, followed by The Jungle, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Things Fall Apart. The Unpublished Writer Blog lists twenty world-changers which include some of these, and many other classics, but goes on to suggest that maybe we need to give a novel at least fifty years before making a judgement on its influence.

As a writer, I know that writing a world-changing novel is well-beyond my scope in life. But I think it would be amazing to write a novel that changed lives, especially if it is one that makes a positive change.

But is that possible as a writer of genre romance? I think it is.  My stories are meant to be thrilling and rough and realistic. I hope that by writing about characters who are not found in many romance novels and who face situations that take courage and smarts, I am helping readers from different backgrounds to walk in the shoes of others.

In my latest novel, and the last in my Skin Quartet series, my heroine is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was brought here as a child. In the story, I try to show how limited options are for people who live in fear of being deported, and thereby, make the discussions going on in the political world a little more real.

Under the Skin by Zara West

Born poor and raised on the streets, celebrated bridge builder and billionaire, Mic Vargas is knee-deep in the construction of a trouble-plagued bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey. He really can’t afford to take in a stray thief and fall in love with her. But when a beautiful, snappy-tongued, illegal immigrant literally drops at his feet, he becomes consumed with saving her and her family from poverty.

Cat burglar, Lena Correr stopped trusting anyone long ago. Not even a rich, handsome billionaire with good intentions can break through her defenses. At least, not until an East Coast crime boss threatens her family and forces her to steal for him. Mic vows to help her and her family escape the hell they are in. But will the man Lena is coming to love succeed, or will he end up dead at the hands of an old enemy?

“The outstanding thing about Ms. West’s novels is that they take the standard romantic suspense tropes and give them a shake, making them fresh and new.” 5 Star Amazon review

Which novels would you include on a list of earth-changers?

Are you more likely to read a book that has won an award?

~ Book Awards ~

This week my romantic suspense Close to the Skin is in a competition to win a Rone Award from InD’Tale Magazine– a beautiful and well-known e-magazine dedicated to romance writing.

This award is one in which readers vote for their favorite book or author. This process is similar to a number of Reader Award contests for published books such as Reader’s Favorites. The judges are readers and librarians and booksellers. I have entered several in the past, but as of yet have not won one.

Then, of course, there is the queen of awards – the RITA . This award is given for published books by Romance Writers of America. This contest is judged by fellow published romance writers. Corinna Lawson has written numerous blog posts about the award, and the books that have won.

Writing Contests & Awards

There are also smaller contests one can enter.  I have won several contests offered by RWA Romance Writing Chapters. These contests are judged in the first round by fellow romance writers, and in the second round, by agents and editors in the romance field. My feeling is that this type of contest offers more to the writer who wants to improve their writing as you usually do get very useful feedback, even if you don’t win.

Close to the Skin won first place in the 2016 Pages from the Heart Award. I am very appreciative of that honor.

2016 Pages from the Heart Award for Close to the Skin

Bestseller Awards

The third type of accolade a book can earn is to be a bestseller. There are all types of best sellers. Being on the NY Times list is, of course, the end goal for many writers. But there are also the USA Today listings and the rankings on Amazon. Authors usually put this achievement not only on the cover of the book that earned the ranking, but also on every book they write.

So how effective is winning an award for a writer?

Research reported in the Guardian on prestigious literary awards shows that reader ratings go down after a book wins a prize. Perhaps, people who might not ordinarily choose that type of book read a book because of the hype and then are disappointed and write bad reviews.

One thing that is true is that winning an award definitely gets a book more attention whether good or bad. Here is a list of award-winning books as listed on Goodreads. I bet you will find some you have read.

Being influenced by an awardClose to the Skin by Zara West

I know that while I am very open in my reading choices, seeing award or bestseller on a book cover makes me feel more confident I will like the book. nevertheless, I also read the opening pages before I buy. Not every award-winning book or bestseller is my cup of excitement.

Then again, as a writer, there is great pleasure in being selected for an award. I certainly wouldn’t turn one down nor would I be upset for my book to be a bestseller, even for a just a day.

Hint: I’d appreciate your vote for that Rone Award. Vote here. Voting goes from April 23 to April 29th 2018. I’ll let you know how I do!

InD'Tale Rone Awards

How about you?

Do you select books that say bestselling author or award-winning author on the cover?

Or do you have a better way to find great books?

I’d love to hear from you.

Writing a Series – 6 Tips for Success

~How to Extend the Story~

When I started writing my first romantic suspense Beneath the Skin, I had no plans to make it into a series. But it didn’t take long for me to start imagining the lives of the secondary characters and wondering if they could win true love too.

So when I pitched the book to Rhonda Penders at Wild Rose Press, I told her it was the first of a series of four books – The Skin Quartet.

Well, on August 18th, book 2 in the series Close to the Skin is scheduled to be released. Now I will find out if I have accomplished what I set out to do.

Writing a successful series is hard

To write a successful series, the author needs to accomplish 6 things.

ONE – Keep the details consistent

This one was a real challenge. No one wants to read a series where characters’ eye color and other characteristics flip around.

Not planning to write a series I hadn’t keep the best ordered notes for Beneath the Skin. I also had used Zara West Suspense Beneath the Skin Writing a series - 6 Tipsa variety of filing methods. I had a looseleaf, a bulletin board, word files, and Pinterest boards

When I hit Book 2 suddenly I needed a unified resource if I wasn’t going to spend forever trying to search out a detail such as a character’s favorite ice cream flavor. I hit upon using One Note (a free program that comes with Microsoft.  Evernote is a similar program, readily available)

But I tried a lot of other methods as well.  The results of what I learned are presented in my online workshop The Story Bible. (Note: I will be offering this workshop for From the Heart Romance Writers in September 2018).

TWO – Stay organized

Another important thing I learned was to keep all my data together. I originally had separate files for each book. This meant I was constantly moving from one to the other. I quickly learned that the best organizational method is to keep all the data for the entire series in one series file.

THREE – Keep track of the passage of time

Having a great Story Bible means that I can quickly locate a name or an age or a location or hair color. But it needs to be supplemented with a calendar. In my case, my series books are consecutive. That means that characters grow older in each book. Not by much -all together the span is about four years. But when one main character is only 14 in the first book, four years will make big difference in his life.

FOUR – Maintain the tone and conflict level.

I wanted to keep the same tone and page-turning level of excitement that reviewers praised after reading Beneath the Skin.

Since each book in the Skin Quartet deals with different characters who relate on different emotional levels., this one was a particular challenge. You want the characters to be unique but linked in some way even though time is passing and the characters are growing, maturing and changing.

In my case, I solved this problem by keeping the villains the same in each book. Because they change much less and are driven to the same end goal – tormenting the hero and heroine,  they provide a unity of motivation and consistency of character.

FIVE – Make the books stand on their own.

Close to the Skin by Zara West Writing a Series - 6 TipsDespite the fact that I was writing a series, I wanted to make sure that every book in the series could be read as a stand-alone. I hate picking up a book and not knowing what the author is referring to. In a recent poll I did on Facebook, every single commenter said they would not like to read book 2 in a series before book 1. However I have seen it done successfully.

But boy is it hard to do well. A series writer has several choices.

  1. You can summarize what has already happened near the start of the story. But that often slows down the reader and can prove annoying.
  2. You can give a few hints of past events and hope the reader will understand enough.
  3. You can tie the past events into the current characters’ lives as motivations or problems.

For Book 2 in The Skin Quartet, I have my main character suffering from post-traumatic stress following the kidnapping she experiences in book 1 Beneath the Skin.

For me, having each book follow the next in time was another great way to ensure the stories stand on their own.

A NetGalley reviewer has written that Close to the Skin works as a stand-alone. I hope other readers agree.

SIX End with a happily ever after.

Having been burned by several books which end in a cliffhanger, I was doubly motivated to make sure every book in my series had a happily ever after.  I decided that the best approach was to write a complete character arc for my romance couple. At the end of the book, their story is done – ending happily ever after.


Since Close to the Skin has not been released yet, I have my fingers crossed that I have succeeded in making both a great Book 2 full of characters my Beneath the Skin readers have come to love plus created a cast of characters who can stand on their own and draw a new reader in.

Note: Book 3 in the series Within the Skin is currently in production at Wild Rose Press.

Read about the whole series here: The Skin Quartet

Buy Links for Beneath the Skin

Amazon  |  B&N  |  iTunes  | KOBO  |  Wild Rose Press

Buy Links for Close to the Skin

Amazon  |  B&N  |  Wild Rose Press

How about you? Have you written a series? What did you struggle with?

Are you a reader of series? What do you like about them? What do you dislike?

Post your comments below.


Editing for Sensory Language Part 2 SMELL

~ The Olfactory Sense: Using Our Nose ~

Smell is one of the most powerful of our senses. Smell forms and solidifies memories and evokes the emotions. A familiar odor can bring back an image or event from the past. Smells influence the choices we make and can change our mood and our behavior.

Real estate agents know to scent houses on the market with baking smells and soft florals. A night club experiment showed that adding a pleasant scent to the air made patrons dance more and say they had a better time than when there were no scents added. Another study showed that people can sense fear in someone’s sweat.

If scents and odors can do this to us, they must certainly do the same things to the characters in our books. Even more importantly, evoking the sense of smell in our reader will make our story more memorable, more emotional, and more realistic.

Smell The Senses


When to Add Smells

Smell is so important that most scenes should mention a smell at least once and is especially powerful in the starting paragraph or as near to it as possible. Here are some other places to insert a olfactory note.

Add in a smell/scent/aroma/reek:

  1. Whenever a character enters a new location, room, building or revisits one – describe the initial smell and then how it changed
  2. When the POV (point of view) character meets a new or important person
  3. When outside in nature or a garden
  4. When sensing danger – the release of adrenaline intensifies one’s sense of smell.
  5. During romantic moments

Smell The scent of hair


Some Smelly Examples

Here are some examples of olfactory description from my upcoming romantic suspense release Close to the Skin Book 2 in the Skin Quartet.

Bella stuck the bag over her mouth and nose and gasped in ham-and-mustard scented air like a drowning victim pulled out of the depths.


The narrow corridor was dank and dark, most of the overhead lights smashed out, the air stinking of decaying garbage and decaying lives.

She pulled the door open, and the sickly sweet odor of something rotten hit her full in the face.

A whiff of stone cold damp and death brushed past her from the shadowed interior.

Smell Resources for Writers


Smells and Emotions 

Smell Lists

The 10 Basic Smells 

A Basic Smell Vocabulary

Lists of Fragrances perfume chemistry perfumes  Essential oils

How often do you use smells in your writing?

What “smell” resources do you use?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Marathon Editing

Editing Tribulations and Tricks

For the last several months, I have been stuck in editing mode. It’s not that I dislike editing. I just like creating new stories better.

Editing becomes a tribulation when all you do is edit from morning to night. That’s what happens when you fast draft three books in a row and then have to ready them for publication all at the same time.

When you spend that much time editing, your eyes begin to go bleary. Then you start to miss errors. Then your mind starts to drift. And then you find yourself reading your e-mail or raiding the fridge. Not good!

Ideally, I would write new stories in the morning and do my editing in the afternoon. But that doesn’t work very well when you have deadlines to meet. So I have come up with some editing tricks that have really helped me work more efficiently and faster when doing Marathon Editing.

Five Editing Tricks

Trick 1

Set a goal for the number of pages you have to have edited by the end of each day. If you are mathematically inclined, this would be the total number of pages divided by the number of days you have to get the editing done.

Trick 2

Set a timer. Edit for twenty minutes and then force yourself to take a break for 5 to 10 minutes. Get up and move. Shake out the kinks. Do a dance, go for a walk, or assume a yoga pose  Make sure to peer off in the distance so your eyes don’t get stuck at computer focus distance. Then edit twenty minutes more and repeat.

Trick 3

Use the text to speech function that comes with your computer or one of the text-to-speech readers such as NaturalReader  to read your writing to you. Having the computer lady or guy read aloud slows down your eye speed and lets you look at each word and sentence more carefully. You instantly know when you’ve missed a period because the voice doesn’t stop when you expect it too. It also helps you checkout comma placement, find misspellings, and discover those pesky missing words.  Despite the annoying voices, hearing them read aloud the dialogue is the best way to see if it reads naturally.

Trick 4

Work backwards. All writers love their own stories. It is easy to get lost in the tale and forget to look for missing words and misspellings and so on. So start at the back and work to the front page by page. If you still get lost in the story. Limit each read aloud to one paragraph.

Trick 5 

Use Autocrit or ProWritingAid to find repeated words, overused words, and clichés.

HINT: All of these trick also work for editing blog posts.

What editing tricks do you use? 

Time Management versus Creativity in Writing

Or Why Hitching Creativity to the Clock is Doomed to Failure

alarm clock Zara West SuspenseYikes! Where did the time go? My last post was when – December? So much for keeping a writing journal.

It was such a good idea – writing down what was going on in my writing. So what happened?  Well, now that I am knee-deep – or is it eyeball deep – in my third novel in the Skin Quartet, I think I have discovered something that will make some writers upset, and others cheer. Time management and creative writing do not fit well together.

Now I have to preface this discussion with the fact that I am excellent at managing time. Ask anyone! At one time I had three jobs, a craft business, two young children and a heck of a lot of sheep. I didn’t sleep much, but I got everything done. I had a planner. I had a calendar. I had a time and place for everything.

The writerly tasks require creativity

So what makes writing different? Well, I have a planner. I have a calendar. I have a timer. And I have a beautiful writing studio. First thing every morning, I sit down and write or edit for the requisite number of words or pages. No problem there. It’s my favorite time of day. No timer is set. Rather my goal is a number of words or a number of pages. The creative ideas pour out of me and onto the page.

Then my schedule lists a number of other writerly tasks to accomplish each day.  These are the things that go along with publishing a book and include such checklist items as posting 8-10 daily quips on social media, taking writing classes (you can always improve!), teaching classes, participating in writing and critique groups, designing newsletters, answering email, and writing blog posts.

A while back, I took a terrific time management course for writers called Book Factory by Kerri Nelson. She suggested dividing up all these writerly tasks into manageable 15 minute blocks of time. This makes sense to me as you can at least see progress. And I have tried to do this ever since and to some extent it does work.

The problem is tasks like social media posts and blogging and newletters so on are all creative writing tasks. Often they take way more than 15 minutes to complete.

After doing creative writing all morning, I have to admit my creative juices are on low flow by the time I open my Facebook page and try to come up with some great new content that people will look at and hopefully share. Then I have to move on to Twitter and class assignments, and so on.

Blog posts, like this one, are the worst, because unlike most social media posts, they can’t be 140 characters long. They have to provide meaningful content. They take me a lot longer than 15 minutes. That’s why they are so rare.

So what’s the solution?

Well, I have noticed that the major writers often mention they have PAs (personal assistants) to do all these other tasks. Others hire promotion companies to help out with some of the items. Both of these sound like a dream to me. With one book published, I’m not yet in that league.

A quick search of my writer friends shows me that the ones who are getting a lot of posts out and somehow keep up with regular blogs often have a strong network of friends and take turns sharing content with each other.

The writers like me who are struggling on our own often sink to re-posting content. It’s not a bad compromise. But not very creative, and it starts to get boring for the reader and -I hate to say it- for me.

So here are some ideas that I am going to try in order to blog about my writing more often.

  1. Set aside one day a week – I’m thinking Monday for my writing blog. (But don’t hold me to that.)
  2. On writing blog day, I will repost and do quickie things on social media like share and retweet.
  3. Create a format for the writing blog posts so I can channel my creativity into what I say instead of how it is organized.
  4. Before writing my blog post, I will walk for 15 minutes to stir up those creative juices.

Do you think this plan will work?

Be looking for my next writing journal post to find out.


Forgive My Long Silence…

Dear Readers,

I have been busy. In June, my first romantic suspense Beneath the Skin was published by Wild Rose Press. I have just signed the contract for Close to the Skin, Book 2 in the Skin Quartet series. I have discovered that it is not the writing that is time consuming. I love writing. But doing the promo for the book takes hours! And the sad thing is, I am not really sure any of my Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest posts are actually helping people decide to choose my book to read.

There are just so many wonderful books out there, I know readers have a hard time picking from them all. I know I do. I read about a book every two days or so, and right now I have 112 books waiting to be read. Most on my Kindle, but also a nice tippy stack of real books. Then every once in awhile, I am drawn to reread a book.

I have posted 85 read books on Goodreads as part of my 100 book challenge. But I have to admit, I don’t post everything I read – only books I can give at least 3 stars but preferably 4 or 5. As an author I don’t think low stars help anyone and they sure hurt when you get them. I’m sure others will feel differently about that, but that’s how I feel.

Anyway, back to the promo problem. Here’s the mock up for a possible Facebook Ad. What do you think? Will it make people want to read this book?

Graffiti artists, tattooing, suspense, secrets, lies and murder. If you love books that keep you glued to the edge of your seat you will love The Skin Quartet Series!  Join Zara West’s Readers Club to stay on top of upcoming books in the series.

Book 1Beneath the Skin

Beneath the Skin

She can’t resist his touch. He can’t stay away. Can they learn to trust each other – before it’s too late?

Bella Bell has disappeared, and Melissa Dermot believes it’s all her fault. After all, the popular Williamsburg, Brooklyn tattoo artist has been helping her save abused women. But what Melissa doesn’t know is that searching for her friend will put her in the path of two men—one who wants her heart, and one who wants her dead.



“You.” Aristides Stavros loomed over her. “What are you doing here?”

She peered up at the artist’s twisted face and backed further down the steps. A doorknob poked her in the back. Panicked, she twisted it open and dashed into an unlit basement storeroom.

She stumbled forward into the dark, tripped over a metallic cylindrical object, and landed on her stomach. All the air whooshed out of her. Rectangular objects with sharp corners tumbled around her, jabbing her in the arms and neck. Rough cloth scrapped her skin.

On the staircase above her, the beast hovered in the doorway like a predator scenting his prey. For a second, he hesitated, then he dashed down the steps and moved toward her, huffing as he shoved objects out of the way. She pushed herself up on hands and knees and scuttled further into the dark.

Sto diavólo. Where are you? If you destroy any of these paintings, I will have your hide or at least my lawyer will.” He came closer. “Busy man, my lawyer, and to think I almost didn’t hire one.”

She scrabbled back and touched torn canvas. Heavens, these were his paintings—the ones that sold for thousands of dollars.

She was in deep, deep trouble.

——–Available Now!——–

 Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes | Wild Rose Press

Let me know what you think.



Favorite Places to Read

Where do you like to read? I’m a compulsive reader so I enjoy reading anywhere. I have been known to read while stirring the stew and in the few seconds it takes to microwave my tea. One of the reasons I like to read paperback books as opposed to e-books is that it is actually quicker to find and turn the pages in a paperback. Then again, e-books are a little more waterproof if you’re cooking. But I do think a paperback is safer when reading in the tub.

In honor of the release of Beneath the Skin, I will be posting suggested places to read  on Facebook and Twitter and this web page on a regular basis. I invite you to join in and post your favorite place to read, including a photo if you wish, in the comment section below or Tweet them to me at @zarawestauthor.

All those who comment or tweet will have their names put in a hat and a winner, chosen at random will receive an e-copy of Beneath the Skin. The winning Readers Club member will receive a basket of Beneath the Skin soap & lotion custom crafted by Laurel’s Garden. If you include a photo of Beneath the Skin in your tweet or comment, you will also get a $5 Amazon gift card.

Places to Read Beneath the Skin

In the Kitchen

Places to read - in the kitchen

In the Vineyard
Places to Read - in the vineyard
In Your Rocking Chair
Places to read - in a rocking chair
In an Apple Tree

Places to Read - in an apple tree

Don’t forget! Post your favorite place to read below or tweet it @zarawestauthor

How I made a Book Trailer for Beneath the Skin

How I Made a Book Trailer for Beneath the Skin!

Book trailers are the hot new thing in book marketing. With my background in making videos, I just had to try my hand at creating one for Beneath the Skin. It was terrific fun!

How I Made the Book Trailer

This is the first time I have used Windows Live Movie Maker. I have only used iMovie before. In general, the process was very much the same, but the choices for transitions and text features were different so I had fun trying out different combinations. But that all came much later.

To begin the process of making the book trailer for Beneath the Skin, I started out by watching hundreds of book trailers on YouTube. All I did was search on the term Book Trailer. That uncovered a wealth of examples.

The first thing I discovered was that there are tons of book trailers being created by students in schools. What a great take on the book report! Here is a great trailer for Roald Dahl’s The Witches made with PhotoStory 3.

The second thing is that the majority of trailers being made are for Young Adult books and are being produced by the major publishing houses who have created “channels” that will appeal to their readers. An example of this is HarperTeen. These often include interviews with the authors.

The third type are book trailers created by the authors themselves. Since I was making my own, I concentrated on the last, particularly those featuring Romantic Suspense novels like my own. I really loved the wonderful trailers done by bestselling author Casi McLean. You can check out her trailers here on her channel.

I wrote down the common features and what I liked and didn’t like about each one. Next I clicked second by second through several and recorded how long each image was on the screen and what was in each image. Based on that I came up with the following list:

Breakdown of a Romantic Suspense Book Trailer

  1. Most of the book trailers I examined were about 1 to 2 minutes long.
  2. Each one started with a title frame that usually included the author’s name, the book title and perhaps a teaser word or phrase.
  3. Most included a mix of action video and stills. Some also had color photos mixed with black & whites.
  4. The text was brief but hit all the major points: The romantic couple. The problem. What was stopping them, and what would happen if they didn’t solve the problem. At the end, there was usually a clip of where to buy the book and maybe the author’s website.
  5. All of them had music that flowed with the pictures.

Tips for Designing a Book Trailer

The following are a general set of directions for designing a book trailer. They do not cover the actual how-to-technology for movie editing software such as Movie Maker or iMovie. You can find numerous how-to videos on YouTube for these. Rather, these are design tips you may find helpful.

  1. Start with the music. Select a piece of music that matches the theme of your book. Because of copyright issues, I searched through free music offerings and was able to find several sites that had free-downloads. is one such source. and are others.
  2. Get pics and vids. Next collect a group of photos and video clips you think you might use and put them in a folder on your computer. One good source of copyright free pic and vids is
  3. Choose your movie editor. Now open your movie editor and upload the visual “clip” you want for your opening. Choose something that immediately sets the mood of your book.
  4. Title it. Insert your intro caption into the visual. Your name or website name plus “presents” and then your title makes it look professional.
  5. Treat it. Select your text treatment (How you want your text to move or change) and your transition treatment (How you want one clip to change to the next). Note: These are called different things in the different programs.
  6. Unify. To create unity use the same transition and text design (font, color, size, & treatment) through out the whole trailer. Keep the colors close in hue and value too, except when you want to shock. For example, a mystery book trailer might be done in all black and white, except for a splash of red at the very end when the “killer” consequence is named.
  7. Use music as your guide. Now here’s the trick to making it all work. Put in the music track. This will help you place and time the remaining pic/vids and captions so they flow with the rise and fall of the music.
  8. Build your show. Now using the movie software put in each pic/vid, the transition (visual effect), and text effect one by one. Note: 3-4 seconds is the longest any image should play. Longer and it gets boring. Shorter 1 and 2 second clips can be used to make things more exciting.
  9.  Check timing. Adjust the timing of each, and put in your ending “Where to Buy” clip. When you upload on to YouTube you will be able to select a URL the viewer can click on right at the end of the video to take them to your buy page.
  10. End softly. Insert a black clip and fade the music out at the end. Voila! You’re done.

Here’s my very first book trailer. I’d love your comments!

Beneath the Skin is Available for Pre-Order

Beneath the Skin is Here!

Look what arrived yesterday! A whole box of my hot off-the-press romantic suspense Beneath the Skin. I have published books before, but I think this was the most exciting of all my books. It has taken me seven years to move from non-fiction writing to fiction writing. I have taken hundreds of courses and workshops and made a trillion false starts. I wrote three other novels, before getting this one published. So yes, Beneath the Skin is special. The cover is also absolutely beautiful. Thank you Wild Rose Press for publishing my book!

Beneath the Skin’s First Sale

So what was the first thing I did when the boxes were delivered. Opened them of course! And I had to share. So I ran outside and caught the postal carrier lady who was gabbing with my daughter at the mailbox to show her what was in those heavy boxes she’d just lugged to my door. And guess what? She bought the first copy.

What’s Next?

I getting ready to release the book trailer for Beneath the Skin. This is a new challenge for me. Be looking for it. Meanwhile…

Pre-order Beneath the Skin from:

Beneath the Skin Order TWRP Button

Amazon buy button yellow

Beneath the Skin Buy Button B &N

Remember the release date  for Beneath the Skin is June 17th!

There’s a Party Going on for Beneath the Skin!

It’s coming. It’s almost here. My first romantic suspense, Beneath the Skin, will be available for pre-orders any day now, and I am having a Pre-Order Round-Up party on my Facebook Fan Page. Come join the party!

Every day there will be a new question, a new poll, a new challenge, or a request for an opinion. Just post a comment to be in the running for a terrific prize. What will you win? Five brilliant romance novels for your summer reading pleasure. There’s paranormal, regency, and contemporary in the mix – all terrific stories of love with a happy-ever-after.

The party ends when Beneath the Skin can be pre-ordered on Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all the major book retailers, and that will be very soon!

Here’s the list:

  • Always by Lindsey Sands
  • The Match of the Century by Cathy Maxwell
  • Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
  • Spider Game by Christine Feehan
  • Love Somebody Like You by Susan Fox

P.S. June 17th is Beneath the Skin’s Worldwide Release Day. Hang around for the BIRTHDAY PARTY!

Beneath the Skin Coming June 17th

Calling all readers!

I have just heard. The worldwide release date for my romantic suspense Beneath the Skin is June 17th, 2016. On that date, Beneath the Skin will be available for purchase through Wild Rose Press as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major book distributors. It will be offered as an e-book and as a paperback. Pre-orders will be available two weeks before the release date.  I will let you know specifically when.

I have lots of exciting book release events planned.

Beneath the Skin Book Trailer: Coming soon to the little screen – Ari and Melissa

Temporary Tattoos for You: A former art student of mine, now an accomplished tattoo artist, will be designing a Beneath the Skin temporary tattoo to be produced by Tattly of Brooklyn. I will be giving these out at book signings.

Facebook Trivia Party: What do you know about tattooing, graffiti, and life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn? This is your chance to share and learn, win prizes and become eligible for future giveaways!

Graffiti Mural Day: Explore the fascinating world of street art. Learn the difference between a tag, a fill, and a one-liner. Design your own tag and add it to our mural. Time and place to be announced.

Meanwhile, here is another excerpt from Beneath the Skin:

“Ari shifted slightly, capturing her roving hand. His long, powerful fingers wrapped around hers. Melissa did not doubt they were capable of breaking bones, but they were also capable of the lightest of touches. She turned her head and looked at him. Ari’s eyes were open, a faint smile curving his lips. A well-satisfied man. A good time to root out his secrets, learn who he really was before she totally lost her heart.”

Let me know what you think…I love your comments!



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Graffiti Art in Beneath the Skin


graffiti artist spraying a wall“Traditionally artists have been considered soft and mellow people, a little bit kooky. Maybe we’re a little bit more like pirates that way. We defend our territory, whatever space we steal to paint on, we defend it fiercely.”
Sandra “Lady Pink” Fabara in Chang, Jeff (2005). Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press. p. 124.

Anyone who has visited Williamsburg, Brooklyn knows that graffiti art is a notable feature of the environment. Whether you consider it vandalism or art, graffiti has been around a long time. Ancient graffiti has been found on Egyptian monuments,  at Pompeii, at the citadel of Sigirlya in Sri Lanka, at Tikal, and in the Catacombs of Rome.

Most ancient graffiti was scratched into the surface. Today most urban graffiti is done with marker and spray paint. In most countries, it is considered vandalism if done to public or private property without permission. Graffiti is often used to mark territory or make a social statement.

Graffiti art plays an important role in my upcoming novel Beneath the Skin. Near the beginning of the story, Aristides Stavros, a renowned fine artist,  meets a young graffiti artist who challenges him to an art contest. El Toro is the leader of a graffiti “crew” called T-Crew. Here is an excerpt from that scene:

Twenty some odd blocks south, Ari found himself in graffiti wonderland. Plywood fences covered in Full Monty murals stretched block after block. He stopped and reread the note El Toro stuck to his door.

“Right place, hombre,” El Toro said, slipping up beside him. He waved his hand. “Meet the judges.”

 Ari stared at the bunch of young men wearing baggy pants, sweatshirts, and multi-pocketed vests. There were four of them. A tall black kid, skinny as a lamp post, with a shaved head, called Fur Tree; two mixed-race twins with Hispanic accents and matching black T-shirts reading “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” who went by Neto and Solo;  and someone’s hyperactive teenage brother. The kid, introduced as Hanger On, swung back and forth from a stair railing, his too-large pants threatening to slip off at any second.

 Ari gave them his best scowl, and when they didn’t flinch, turned it to a smile. “So where’s the wall?”        

Try creating your own unique tag here.

Zaea West Suspense in graffiti

   How do you feel about graffiti? Is it vandalism? Is it art?

Please share your thoughts


Beneath the Skin is different

Now I read a lot of romantic suspense novels. I love them. Why else would I write them? I like the fact that there is mystery and threatening villains along with the love story. I like the complexity of the plot and the challenging of binding the romance so tightly into the suspense plot line that if you took out the romance  or took out the suspense plot the story wouldn’t work.

To do that you need a special type of hero and heroine and a very threatening villain. Most romantic suspenses, therefore, usually have at least one and sometimes both main characters working for the military, especially the SEALs,  or for the police or in some CIA or FBI undercover operation investigating a crime or trying to stop terrorists or other very bad bad people. Blood Code featured the CIA against a crazy Russian premier. Exit Strategy starred an ex-military guy protecting his assigned victim from being assassinated.

Beneath the Skin is different. My heroine is an anthropologist. The hero is a world-renowned artist living the good life. Not military, not undercover, not police. So why don’t they go to the police when Bella Bell is kidnapped? Unfortunately, both have something in their pasts that makes them wary of legal authorities, and by the time, they realize they are in too deep, it’s too late.

The book I am giving away for March is Low Pressure by best selling author Sandra Brown. The hero and heroine in this book are more like mine in Beneath the Skin. In this book, the heroine is a writer and the hero is a pilot. Like Melissa and Ari, they start looking for answers and end up running for their lives.

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Zara West’s Romantic Suspense Book Review

Blood CodeBlood Code by USA Today bestselling author Misty Evans definitely fits the requirements for a romantic suspense. The heroine is a Russian princess who has lived in the United States from childhood. Suffering from a severe blood clotting disorder, she is now a geneticist focused on finding a cure. But when her grandmother is kidnapped by the Russian premier, she will do anything to save her, including seeking help from head of the CIA in Europe who happens to be in Russia on a training mission. Read more…

Food Moments in Fiction

Characters have to eat too. Today is National Pizza Day so I thought I would give a plug for Fornino in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This is where my romantic suspense hero in Beneath the Skin likes to eat. Aristides Stavros might be a famous artist, but he’s not much of a cook. It also proves a great place to escape to with his graffiti crew when an unexpected visitor gets too friendly.

Read more….

Do you have a favorite Brooklyn pizza place?

Give me your suggestions and I’ll check them out and include the one I like the best in my sequel Close to the Skin.


Do what characters wear add to the enjoyment of a romantic suspense?

So what do you think? Does it matter what characters wear in the novels you read? Is it worth the time for writers to search the Internet for just the right outfit?

Today I needed to describe the handbag my character Bella Bell, a tattoo artist, carries. The bag had to fit her flamboyant sense of style and be dumpable because later in the story she spills it and loses important sketches. In my commitment to ethical fashion, I also wanted it to be a fair trade item. Read more about my search for the perfect fit for the character and the story on my main blog for Zara West Suspense. And see some of the handbags I considered.

Click the FOLLOW ZARA button and sign up for my e-newsletter to get a free award winning short story and to be entered in exclusive giveaways. This week in honor of Valentine’s Day, I am giving away a copy of Ooh La La, a Candy Heart Romance by Doreen Alsen which will be released on Amazon tomorrow.



Let Them Wear Red: Ethical Clothing for My Characters

Today is National Wear Red Day in honor of women. So I thought that I would share some red outfits my characters might enjoy wearing on this day. Note: In keeping with my new awareness of ethically made clothing, all the gorgeous garments featured here are made in conscience to worker’s rights and the environment or from recycled finds. Learn more about the ethical clothing movement here.

Melissa Dermott: The petite Asian-American heroine of Beneath the Skin is not a fancy dresser. She’s a debt-ridden graduate student. Most of her clothing is purchased in thrift stores and flea markets. But she has good taste and likes good design and simple lines. Her favorite go-to jacket is a boiled wool bolero with embroidery. Here are two jackets she might love.

Boiled Wool bolero jacket

Vintage Lord & Taylor jacket ETSY

Bolero jacket

Recycled Chico’s bolero jacket  e-bay

Bella Bell: Flamboyant and outspoken, tattoo artist Bella Bell dresses to match her personality. She loves flowing skirts and revealing cuts that show off her glorious tattoos. Here are two wonderful red dresses for her.

Avery Dress by Reformation Ethical clothing

The Avery Dress by Reformation

Fair Indigo organic fair trade dress

Fair Indigo organic fair trade dress

Jana Firth: Snarky, sexy, Jana dresses for success in expensive suits that say “Look at me. I’m on my way to the top, and I don’t care who gets trampled on my way up.” I think I found the perfect upscale outfit for her to wear on a night on the city, and it’s even vintage.

So what red outfit are you wearing today?

Zara West’s Author Bio for Beneath the Skin

There is nothing more difficult then writing about yourself. Nobody likes to brag. Nobody wants to pat herself or himself on the back. So composing a bio about myself to include in Beneath the Skin was a real challenge.

I decided to do some research on what authors are supposed to include in their “About the Author” page.

  1. Neil Patel advises you to remember that the bio is not really about you, but about your reader. What does your reader need to know about you? What makes you qualified to write this book?
  2. Heather Hummel emphasizes including awards you’ve received for your writing. An award-winning piece of writing has sparkle.
  3. Chris Robley warns that a little bit of personal history goes a long way.
  4. Cameron Pierce says emphasizing the places we are gives our identities a greater richness.
  5. Anne R. Allen urges us to make it newsworthy. Share something spectacular or unusual you have done.
  6. Roni Loren suggests a touch or humor and something personal.

So taking all this good advice into account, this is what I came up with. And I must have done something right because I am happy to say that it was approved by Wild Rose Press.

Zara West loves all things dark, scary, and heart-stopping as long as they lead to true love. Born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Zara spends winters in New York where the streets hum with life, summers in the Maritimes where the sea can be cruel, and the rest of the year anywhere inspiration for tales of suspense, mystery, and romance are plentiful.

An accomplished artist by training and passion, she brings a love of art to every book she writes. When not marooned on an island or chasing after Greek shepherds, Zara tends her organic herb garden, collects hats and cats, and whips up ethnic dishes for friends and family.

A member of RWA, Zara is an award-winning author of both fiction and non-fiction. This is her first romantic suspense.

Beneath the Skin Book Cover Just Released

The book cover for Beneath the Skin is here!

Beneath the Skin Bookcover showing East River, bridges, two lovers

Back Cover Blurb

Ex-Olympic wrestler and reclusive billionaire artist Aristides Stavros has one mission—to rescue his sister, a popular tattoo artist from the old enemy who has kidnapped her. But at every turn, he is confronted by anthropologist Melissa Dermot. Is she just an innocent girl in over her head, or is she working for the international crime boss holding his sister?

Only one thing is certain–when Ari holds the beautiful Asian-American in his arms, questions of guilt and innocence fade against an undeniable fiery attraction. But can their wild passionate love survive the tangled web of long-buried secrets, intentional deceit, and murderous revenge that lie just beneath the surface?


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Zara West loves all things dark, scary, and heart-stopping as long as they lead to true love. Zara spends winters in New York City where the streets hum with life, summers at the shore where the sea can be cruel, and the rest of the year anywhere inspiration for tales of suspense, mystery, and romance are plentiful.

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