Thursday, March 17, 2016

Free of Malice … Conversation, Giveaway

Being a born and bred Georgia girl, I’m always thrilled to welcome a Georgia author to Thoughts in Progress. Today I’m delighted to have author Liz Lazarus visiting us to talk about her soon-to-be released book, FREE OF MALICE.

To celebrate the March 31 release, Liz is giving away a signed copy of her book and an accompanying CD featuring a theme song by Atlanta recording artist Thomas Barnette. Please see the end of the post for more details about the giveaway.

FREE OF MALICE is very much rooted in Atlanta (GA) and peppered with local landmarks. Written as a thriller, the book is loosely based on an experience Liz had in college at Georgia Tech where she narrowly escaped a rape attempt. Though the story is mostly fictional, it addresses some hot topics that have dominated headlines in recent months - women's self-defense, campus rape, gun ownership and responsibility, criminal justice, recovering attempted rape, PTSD, etc.

The book comes with a really cool bonus -- it has a theme song (“Let Me Breathe”) by Atlanta recording artist Thomas Barnette, one of the author’s best friends and the inspiration for the lawyer character in the book. Beyond his music career, Thomas is also involved as a pageant coach for Miss America and Miss USA competitions. You can listen to the song here. “Let Me Breathe” was co-produced by Liz.

If you happen to be in the Atlanta area later this month, there’s a Launch Party for FREE OF MALICE. The party will be held Thursday, March 31, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. at the Red Martini Bar, 3179 Peachtree Road, Atlanta.

Here’s a description of the thriller:

A thriller that portrays the emotional realities of healing from a vicious, physical attack and the obsession of one woman to force the legal system to acknowledge her right to self-defense.
Loosely based on the personal experience of author Liz Lazarus, Free of Malice is a page-turner full of drama and suspense with unexpected twists.
Set in Atlanta, main character Laura Holland, a rising journalist, endures a night of terror when she is attacked in her home in the middle of the night. “I remember seeing the diamond of my engagement ring sparkle in the dim night as he thrashed his head. This was the only time I caught a glimpse of his dark face, with my fingers in his mouth. He did not seem human, but like a rabid beast attacking me in the night.”
Although she fights off the would-be rapist, his parting words are a threat to return. At the urging of her husband, Laura undergoes therapy to recover from the trauma, learning about a relatively new technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) used for PTSD patients. But just when the reader feels a sense of where this book is headed—the story of a woman healing—the plot veers in a new direction.
Though Laura did not own a gun at the time, she wishes she could have shot her attacker as he fled. When she learns that her actions might not have been deemed self-defense, her journalistic instincts are kindled. Laura decides to write a hypothetical legal case, which plays out the events of that night had she shot and killed her assailant. She enlists the help of a young, black attorney, Thomas Bennett. Though Thomas proves to be clever in the rules of the criminal justice system, his striking resemblance to her attacker does not go unnoticed. As the two work together to develop the case, Laura’s discomfort escalates, particularly when Thomas seems to know more about that night than he should. Could he possibly be her assailant or is Laura being hyper-vigilant? Reality and fiction soon merge as her real life drama begins to mirror the fiction she’s trying to create.

Now please join me for a conversation with Liz.

Where did you get the idea for the book? 

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. 

What traits and other tidbits do you share with the main character? 

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. 

What made you decide to self-publish? 

The publishing industry has changed so much over the years and self-publishing has become a viable alternative, especially for an unknown, first time author. 

Are there any specific authors whose writing styles or subject matter inspired your book? 

I actually like non-fiction—biographies, probably because I like learning about other people and their journey. I’ve just recently reread my grandfather’s book, Follow My Leader. It’s a children’s book first published in 1957 and still has fans to this day. I also love thrillers with interesting female characters like Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins, and of course, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. 

Why should someone want to read your book? 

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! And if you know Atlanta, you’ll enjoy reading about all the familiar places. 

What advice would you give to authors who are thinking about writing their first book? 

I postponed writing this book for many years to pursue other opportunities—I moved to Paris, got my MBA from Northwestern and got my pilot’s license. But this book kept nagging me to write it so I finally relented. I would tell other authors, if you have the calling, listen to it. 

What is your writing process? 

I used a huge wall calendar to outline the six months in which the book took place from June to December. I would list the events that occurred on the calendar which helped me sequence the story and also allowed me to circle back to clues I had dropped in earlier chapters. I had the great fortune to work with a certified EMDR therapist (Karen McCarty) and two criminal defense lawyers (Alison Frutoz and Ruth Rocker) to be sure those portions of the book were accurate. 

What interesting topics does your book shed light on? 

Recovering from an attack, EMDR therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, gun ownership, criminal defense system, and race. 

Do you have another project in the works? If so, what is it? 

To my surprise and delight, many of my readers want to know more about what happens next for Laura. I have a few ideas on a new case. 

Bonus question: What is your favorite past time activity? 

I like anything that allows me to be creative. For example, I recently co-produced a music CD with my friend, Thomas Barnette. He inspired the character of Thomas and his song, Let Me Breathe, is the theme song for my book. You can listen to the song at

Liz, thanks for joining us and sharing this insight into your writing.
Now to entice you even more, here’s an excerpt from FREE OF MALICE for your reading pleasure.

Thursday, July 6

      Run. Run faster. As much as I strained my legs to move, they were immobile, like I was waist deep in quicksand. 
      Why can’t I move? 
      I tried to scream for help but my mouth was full, like it was stuffed with cotton—no sound would escape. I felt something clutching my shoulder. No, it was someone. He was pushing me forward and then yanking me back. I tried to jerk away but he had a vice-like grip. 
      I have to break free
      The tugging got harder, more forceful. He was calling my name— over and over. He knew my name. 
      “Laura, Laura.” I jolted awake—my husband’s hand still on my shoulder. 
      “Honey, wake up. You’re having another bad dream.” 
      Slowly, I turned over in bed and looked at him—his dark brown eyes were fixated on me. I could see them clearly as the light from the bathroom brightened our bedroom. 
      For a month now, we had slept with this light on. 
      I could see the small wrinkle on his forehead. I loved that wrinkle though wished he didn’t have good reason to be so concerned. I was enduring the nightmares, but he had to deal with my tossing and mumbling in terror. 
      I remember when we first met—ten years ago in chemistry lab at Georgia Tech. He had walked up to me with those warm eyes and a charming, confident smile and asked, “Want to be partners?” 
      Two years later he took me to Stone Mountain Park, rented a small rowboat and, in the moonlight, he pulled out a diamond ring and asked me again, “Want to be partners?” 
      Life had seemed just about perfect. 
      Until now. 
      We looked at each other for a moment. Then he propped himself up on his elbow and said softly, “Laura, I feel so helpless. I know it’s only been a month, but...” 
      He hesitated. 
      “What?” I asked. 
      “It’s just as bad as that first night. After it happened. Look, I want to make you feel safe again, but I don’t know how.” 
      He rubbed his eyes and looked away. I waited, staring at him.  
      What isn’t he saying? 
      “I know you don’t want to see a therapist, but seeing someone doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Therapists don’t treat just crazy people. They help people who have been through traumas and you have. Hell, no one even has to know.” 
      He paused for a second. 
      “Don’t be mad at me, but yesterday I made an appointment for you. I was going to talk to you about it in the morning if you had another bad dream. I found a woman who is downtown by my office. She’s been practicing for about twenty years, got her doctorate from Emory and comes with really good patient reviews.” 
      He looked for my reaction and continued. “I made the appointment for you at 4:00 so we can go to dinner afterward. You know what you always say. You’ll try anything once, right?” 
      “I told you I don’t want to see a psychiatrist,” I pushed back. “I just need more time. I’ll bounce back. You know I almost came in the house on my own today. Besides, if I see a psychiatrist, on every job application I complete in the future, I’ll have to check the ‘Yes’ box when they ask if I’ve had mental health treatment.” 
      “Jesus. No you don’t. You’re too innocent sometimes.” 
      He gently tapped me on the nose. 
      “You can check the box ‘No.’ Besides, if that’s the only thing stopping you, I think you should give it a try. Her name is Barbara Cole. I’ll take you to Houston’s afterward,” he added. 
      I ignored the bribe. “But what can she do that you can’t? All she’ll do is listen and you do that for me already. Psychiatrists are for people who don’t have friends or husbands to talk to.” 
      Chris shook his head. 
      “Please? Do it for me.” 
      The tone in his voice was different—more helpless than normal. Chris had been so understanding, so comforting this past month, especially considering I had been waking him every night. How could I refuse his request? 
      I sighed. “Okay,” I relented. “I’ll go.” 
      “One visit. That’s all I’m asking. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back. She’s a psychologist, by the way, not a psychiatrist. She does therapy, not drugs.” 
      He glanced at the clock. It was 3:30 a.m. 
      Chris grabbed Konk, my stuffed animal gorilla that I won at the state fair by outshooting him at the basketball game. He had sworn the scum running the game couldn’t take his eyes off my butt and let me win. 
      “Here’s Konk,” he said. “I’m going to finish my presentation since I’m up. I’ll just be in the office. Want the door open?” 
      “Yes,” I said as I wrapped my arms tightly around Konk. 
      “Hey, we’ll celebrate your first therapy visit and my signed contract, I hope, this evening.” 
      “You mean you hope my first visit?” I said with a playful smile. 
      He gave me a look—he was in no mood for jokes. 
      “Fine. Fine. I’ll go,” I assured. 
      “If you’re asleep when I leave, just come by my office after the appointment and we’ll head to dinner. Try to get some sleep. I love you.” 
      “I love you, too.”

Author Liz Lazarus
Liz Lazarus was born in Valdosta, Georgia, and graduated from Georgia Tech with an engineering degree. She spent her career at General Electric’s Healthcare division. The work allowed her the chance to travel the world, including living in Paris for three years. She later attended the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, earning an MBA in their executive master’s program. 

Liz lives in Atlanta where she is a partner in a strategic planning consulting firm. Free of Malice is Liz's first book and is based on her real life experience. 


Thanks to Liz, this giveaway is for one signed copy of FREE OF MALICE and an accompanying CD featuring a theme song by Atlanta recording artist Thomas Barnette. The giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. only and will end at 12 a.m. (EST) on Friday, March 25.

To enter the giveaway, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below and follow the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load so please be patient. A winner will be selected by the Rafflecopter widget and I’ll send an email with the subject line “Thoughts in Progress Giveaway.” The winner will have 72 hours to reply to the email or another winner will be selected. PLEASE be sure to check your spam folder from time to time after the giveaway ends to make sure the notification email doesn’t end up there. If you win and you’ve already won the book somewhere else or you just decided for whatever reason you don’t want to win (which is fine), once again PLEASE let me know.

Thanks so much for dropping by today during Liz’s visit. Do you enjoy books that include current headlines in their plot? Happy St. Patrick's Day to all who are celebrating.


  1. How I wish those 'hot topics' had no relevance outside history. Ancient history for preference...

  2. You turned a tragic and scary event into a story others can enjoy. Really awesome you have a CD with it. It's all in the timing - you did Paris and piloting, now it's time for your book.

  3. The song and singer are great! The book must be too.

  4. What a really fascinating premise for a novel! And, sadly, it takes up topics that are real issues on today's campuses. Thanks for sharing, Mason.

  5. I would love to read this book—thanks for the chance to win a copy!

    skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

  6. Thanks for this captivating novel. The author's courage to write this book and her talent is wonderful.

  7. Thank you, Mason for your lovely post about Free of Malice. And thank you all for your lovely comments. I'm very touched by your support. Let's stay in touch on Twitter @liz_lazarus -- there are lots of launch activities during the coming weeks. Best with the giveaway! Liz


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.