Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dying for Halloween


By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know & Dying for the Past

Fall. October. Halloween. Three of the four things I live for every year at this time. The season is magical to me. It’s comfy and mysterious—warm days growing shorter with each tick of the calendar ... chilly evenings with the musky-scent of falling leaves and fireplace logs. Every August, I start counting the days until October and now it’s here. So haul out the Halloween decorations—skeletons, witches, and hay bales—and warm up the cider. It’s here. Yet, there is a downside of this season. It tends to be short in Virginia, not the long, more colorful weeks in Upstate New York where I grew up. But having lived overseas where the difference in seasons was the tone of the sand, dirt, and olive trees all around, I’ll take it!  
    But wait … what? Me sappy and romantic for the changing leaves and children scurrying around dressed like Bill Clinton and Batman?
    Sorry. No.
    Halloween has a special place in my heart, but it’s not born of sappy memories or trick or treat (it is but I’ll never tell). I grew up in the country in Upstate New York and spent a good amount of time in the outdoors. Yes, I love the changing fall colors and the scents and sounds of the season. Yes, it conjures up some great memories—and some pretty horrible ones, too. But, none of these is why October makes me giggle and swoon like my wife at a shoe sale.
    It’s about the killing and the mayhem. It’s about the dark, maniacal gathering—the food, the spirits … murdering the entire family one at a time ... and slowly. Oh yeah, baby, it’s here. Bring on the hors d'oeuvres, the expensive wines, and the spread of gourmet delights. Sharpen that cleaver and load up the pistols. It’s time for a killing. Or two. Maybe three or four—“The wine is delightful and the mussels marinara divine—bang, you’re dead!
    Uh, perhaps a little explanation is in order. I think I heard a siren coming up the road.
    Each year for the past many years (and each summer years ago when my kids were younger and less a pain in the …), I sponsor an annual Halloween murder mystery dinner party. No, not one of those “out of the box” dinner parties with lame scripts and phony dialogue (I tried one and it was horrible.) No, I’m talking a homegrown, authored by moi, props galore, murder-in-abundance dinner party for my family and friends.  As my two passions are cooking and writing, I put on a spread of tons of good food, write the storyline, and perform as the master of killer-monies (read that ceremonies for you slow folk). What a blast! The storyline and party include prizes for best costume, prize for who solves the murder, prizes for who solves any murders that take place during the evening, and prizes for who ends up with the most money (fake of course) at the end of the party. Party Note: The money is a story prop used as bribery, graft, payoffs, extortion, and general mayhem. While I try to control this mayhem, I am rarely successful. Like before I let anyone into my home, they must undergo a body search for unauthorized weapons, cheats, their own fake money, and other props used to steal the show. Each year, I lose this battle miserably—like the year the meek, mild victim who should have died in Act II ended up killing more party guests and surviving the evening more than anyone. Damn, I didn’t see that one coming.

    If you want to see a bunch of friends and family turn on each other for three hours, throw one of these gigs. Spouses kill spouses. Children kill parents. Friends kill everyone. And in the end, nothing—no one—is sacred! Even my yellow Lab was assassinated three times in one evening—give that boy a shrimp and a cookie and he becomes a ham!
    Last year—2013—the costume theme was favorite monster movie characters. The storyline was about a family patriarch who was about to sell his new book The Killing of Tyler Quinn, but the family all had a piece of it and wanted their cut. (Yes, it does sound familiar to me, too.) So the patriarch, his agent, publisher, and editor were all killed out of vengeance and greed (sorry Midnight Ink, Melanie, Kimberley…honest, there were stand-ins!). It took about thirty minutes and one round of drinks before the partygoers were killing each other off and trying to win the game—and not on script, either.

    Over the years, I’ve thrown murder parties surrounding 1930 gangsters trying to take over my turf in Winchester (if you know Winchester, that wouldn’t take long). There have been superhero parties where it was open season on plotting the murders of your spouse and best friend. And even pirate treasure themes and on and on.
    The funniest part of these events is that I spend weeks writing the plot and putting together crime scene clues, evidence, and all the characters—only to have my guests run away with the show and start improvising as they go! No one has any lines. Each player has a character to play and gets a card during three rounds of the evening (appetizers, dinner, dessert rounds) which tell them what they must accomplish and do. Last year, the players had to solve a series of clues, puzzles, and hidden secrets to find all the evidence—after examining a crime scene. They were stealing each other’s clues, locking others in the bathroom, moving evidence to hide it from the others, and even stealing my artwork on the walls “just in case it meant something.” It was so exhausting even my three Labs found a corner to hide out in. It took three days to straighten my house afterwards!


 

Publication Note: No animals or stuffed animals were injured during these productions. My artwork and memorabilia is another matter. And my liquor cabinet takes weeks to recover. As does my refrigerator. And nerves. And checkbook.

    But alas, the laughs and the food and fun lasted long after the party was over.  

    This year, the theme is “Shaken Not Stirred” and the costumes are their favorite sci-fi (not syfy) movie characters. The storyline is about spies and counter-spies trying to find each other’s secrets and kill off the enemy agents. I’m sure I won’t have to write too many details—the imaginations of the partygoers—most on their 7th or 8th event—will write it themselves. The question will be—will I survive for another October-kill next year?
    Stay tuned. Listen to your police radios. Watch the night sky.
    Maybe I’ll use up another blog in November to report on the mayhem and pass around a few photos. If you don’t hear from me though, they got me again. Hopefully, none of my family or friends will use my annual gala as a means to my real end.

 
Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his eight novels and is currently available in bookstores and online. Dying for the Past, the first of two sequels to Dying to Know, will be released in January, 2015—available now for pre-orders! Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and investigations. Learn about his world at www.tjoconnor.com and Facebook at www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Can Yoga Really Be Murder?

Photo Courtesy of Christopher Brown
How do you reconcile writing both about yoga (which advocates nonviolence) and murder?

I was recently asked this question when talking about the second book in my Downward Dog Mystery series, A Killer Retreat.
 
This is such an interesting question, and one that I’ve only been asked a handful of times. First, I’ll say my genre, cozy mysteries, helps.  By convention, gore and on-the-page violence are minimized. There are definitely some tense and challenging scenes, however. I try to balance them with humor.

But even if I wrote horror, I could still combine murder and yoga in the same work. The yoga teachings never promise that yogis will live in a world without violence. In fact, they say that suffering is inevitable. What they do promise is that people who practice yoga—which is so much more than doing poses—will be able to survive life’s traumas with less emotional suffering.  They also ask that yogis personally practice compassion, honesty, and nonviolence in actions, words, and thoughts.

Yoga practitioners, like everyone else, live in the real world. We are exposed to the same triggers and conflicts and traumas. Yoga doesn’t stop what happens around us; it simply gives us choices in how we react to it. So it’s not a big stretch (so to speak) to have violence, tension and other challenges in the world of a yoga teacher. In an ideal world, she would simply be better prepared to deal with them.

But the truth is Kate—my yoga sleuth—doesn’t live in an ideal world, and she doesn’t always react like the perfect yogi. She has a terrible temper, and she often acts impulsively, only to regret it later. When Kate’s at her best, she responds to the tension and heartache in her world with self-deprecating humor and compassion. When she’s at her worst, she lashes out in sometimes embarrassing ways.

Overall, Kate tries to be compassionate and generous. She helps others when it would be much easier not to.  When she screws up, which is often, she tries to learn from her mistakes and to do better in the future.

To me, that is yoga.
 
What do you think?  Can a book contain both yoga and murder while still being loyal to both the mystery and the teachings?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

About Tracy:

My writing is an expression of the things I love best: yoga, dogs, and murder mysteries. I'm a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, WA. I enjoy sharing my passion for yoga and animals in any form possible.  My husband and I live with our challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha and our bonito flake-loving cat Maggie. When I’m not writing, I spend my time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at my favorite local ale house.

For more information, visit me online at http://tracyweberauthor.com/ and http://wholelifeyoga.com/

Monday, September 8, 2014

Poke Me With a Fork...

I'm done.

by Shannon Baker

When introverts spend a long weekend at a writers conference, talking, listening, learning and loving being with other writers, it can mean a retreat to the cave big time. It can also mean no energy left to write a blog.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold Confernce took place Sept 5-7 in Denver, which means, I'm totally played out. So instead of words, you get picutres:


Midnight Ink Aquiring Editor Terri Bischoff flanked by authors Shannon Baker and Linda Hull
This was the first day of the conference, well before late nights.



What happens when a well meaning and talented author (Mark Stevens) asks very nicely for an extension on his deadline from the Evil Editor.



Speaking of evil, the welcome speech on Friday night wasn't really meant to scare anyone. 


The same Editor being not so evil, hanging out in the Colorado sunshine and deciding on a sage margarita after a harrowing day of taking author pitches.


Send off speaker, extrodinary writer, all around great guy, William Kent Krueger. He taught several workshops, gave one on one critiques and inspired us all with his speech at the farewell luncheon.

Even though my brain is mush, it was all in a good cause. I would give you more details about the conference and urge you all to put it on your calendars for next year, but I'm toast tonight. (No, I did not mean toasted.) For more details, pop on over to RMFW.org. 




Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dying for History - A Key Element In My Novels


By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know & Dying for the Past

Every good book I’ve ever read intrigued me not just because of the main story, but because it had subplots and vignettes that kept the main story buoyed with a touch of complexity and diversion. One of my favorite subplot techniques is the interweaving of real history into the storyline. There are many facets of using historical events as a subplot in my stories that I enjoy. Among them, performing research and finding twists and turns from real-life events are my favorites. The old adage, “History Repeats Itself” has become a mainstay subplot of my novels.

Let me give you a few examples.

Dying to Know—In my debut novel, dead-detective Oliver “Tuck” Tucker is faced with solving his own murder and dealing with a series of grisly others. Some of the murders go back over forty years. The historical subplot revolves around the American Civil War—a significant era in the history of real-life city Winchester, Virginia. The story, and resulting murders, begin when the discovery of unmarked Civil War remains threatens to halt a multi-million dollar development project. The battle between history and development is a fact in Winchester. For years, the county has considered building a highway bypass around parts of the city. But in its path is at least one Civil War battlefield. More angst and skirmishes have resulted over this conflict than perhaps in some of the many battles Winchester actually fought in the war. If you know anything about historical sites, you might know that the protection of historical lands often trump new construction, development, and even some modern zoning laws across our country. And trust me, getting in the way of development is a sure fire way of creating a crisis in your community. Land barons are often in battle over future development with societies sworn to protect historical sites. In Dying to Know, the land dispute and Civil War connections to Tuck’s murder are rooted in real Winchester History and drive the story from several viewpoints.
 

Dying for the Past—Tuck and his pals are back in Book II and encounter the death of a mysterious philanthropist who seems to have a wad of Grover Clevelands in his pocket—1930’s Gold Certificate one-thousand dollar bills. Notwithstanding a plethora of sketchy characters, Dying for the Past’s historical subplot focuses on 1930’s mobsters and their pre-World War II collaboration with our own FBI. This theme follows Tuck and others chasing “The Book”—an old mobster’s journal detailing Nazi and Russian spy rings around Washington D.C. and New York City. This subplot is based on true events in our history. In the late 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. Government sought the help of folks who knew our ports, rail yards, transportation hubs, and the gritty underbelly of American cities where spies and saboteurs might hang out. Who did they turn to? The second largest intelligence network in the country—organized crime. During those days, the U.S. was concerned about Nazi, Japanese, Russian, and even Italian efforts to conduct wartime sabotage and subversion operations against us here at home. Organized crime families had deep inroads into some of the biggest targets in the country—New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, Detroit, and many other port cities. Well-known gangsters such as Lucky Luciano were reputed to have assisted American authorities in the war effort. In Luciano’s case, his organization reportedly helped gather intelligence for the invasion of Sicily and in the protection of New York’s ports against saboteurs and spies. Borrowing from these historical vignettes, I transposed some of the mob connections to Winchester and molded the plot around just such a storyline—1930’s mobsters helping track World War II spy rings. The result, with some colorful characters involved in the present day murders, set the foundation for a murder plot that lasted for more than seventy-five years.

New Sins for Old Scores—In an unrelated mystery series that my brilliant agent, Kimberley Cameron, is offering to the market as we speak, I use a real World War II OSS operation—Office of Strategic Services—and superimpose it into present-day Northern Virginia. The story surrounds Richard Jax, a Virginia State Police investigator under suspicion for the murder of his partner. Jax is thrust into the story when he is almost killed after stumbling onto a strange human-trafficking operation out of an old World War II Inn. Unbeknownst to him, he connects with Captain Trick McCall—a murdered OSS Operative from World War II—who was believed a double agent who betrayed his country. Together, they pursue their two cases—separated by seventy years—and learn that history is repeating itself. The story surrounds real-life Operation Paperclip, the American OSS operation to spirit scientists and industrialists out of war-torn Europe before the Nazi or Russians could further exploit them. Operation Paperclip was responsible for the U.S. making significant scientific gains, especially nuclear and jet propulsion technology, being explored by the Germans. In New Sins for Old Scores, I superimposed this human-capitol operation into modern-day Middle Eastern theaters of combat, and added in a rogue element of prior World War II operatives and modern-day mercenaries who move Middle Easterners out of Afghanistan and Iraq to the U.S.—for profit and exploitation. This spin on Operation Paperclip helped me create a viable plot that was worth murder to keep secret, and linked the modern human traffickers to real-world World War II spy exploits. It also raises the question—could it really be happening? So once again, I took a historical episode and superimposed it into a modern-day murder mystery to create the environment and plot necessary for my characters to be plunged into crisis and murder—and link their cases to crimes of the past.

History appeals to me in many ways as a reader, but it motivates me as an author. In a time that every plot and every character-type seems to have been written over and over as often as redos of Superman, historical events give me a foundation of facts for which I can create new plots and characters, and hopefully offer a new spin on intrigue.

I have two other novels—Dying to Tell and The Killing of Tyler Quinn—that have a historical subplot woven into modern-day mysteries. But I’ll save those discussions for another time.

Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his eight novels and is currently available in bookstores and online. Dying for the Past is the first of two sequels to Dying to Know and will be released January 8, 2015—available now for pre-orders! Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and investigations.

Learn about his world at www.tjoconnor.com and Facebook at www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author.

 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Number One

--by Linda O. Johnston

Today is the first day of September, as well as Labor Day.  It's also the first Monday of the month, which is when I'm scheduled to post on InkSpot, so here I am.

Plus, it's the first day of the month before my first Midnight Ink book will be published, which will happen in October.  LOST UNDER A LADDER is additionally my first Superstition Mystery.

 

I'd say that today is Number One.

Because of my new mystery series, I've been doing a lot of research into superstitions.  There are quite a few of them involving numbers and how they relate to luck.   Some of the most well known involve the numbers three, seven and thirteen.  But that's not all of them.  There are superstitions regarding the number one as well.

What are they?  The number one is generally considered to be lucky except in China, since apparently the Chinese word for "one" sounds somewhat like the word for "loneliness." 

The number one is indivisible and the basis for all other numbers.  Number one is associated with new beginnings, new projects, new ideas, inspiration and confidence.

It's good luck to live in a house with the street number of one. Children born on the first day of the month are considered to be lucky. 

Hooray for number one! 

What will I be doing on this special day of One?  Writing, of course.  Right now, I'm working on the second Superstition Mystery.  Looks like I'd better learn whether there are any superstitions involved with the number Two!

Do you have any lucky numbers?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Yoga Studios Fact and Fiction

First of all, I’d like to say that I’m absolutely delighted to be part of the regular blog rotation on Inkspot. Anyone who’s read my first book knows that my series features a yoga studio owner with a crazy German shepherd sidekick. (Kate’s other claim to fame is that she occasionally stumbles over dead bodies.) Anyone who’s read my bio knows that I’m also yoga studio owner with a crazy German shepherd sidekick. 

 


So, a question naturally arises. Is Kate really me and is Bella really my German shepherd, Tasha?  The answers to both of those questions are a little “yes” and a lot “no.”  But those are blog articles for another day. The question that I haven’t been asked (at least not that I remember) is whether Kate’s studio, Serenity Yoga, is actually my studio, Whole Life Yoga.

The answer?  A little yes and a lot no.  ;-)  

Similarities between the two businesses:

·        Location location, location. Both studios are located in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, in newer construction mixed use buildings (meaning that there are businesses on the ground floor, apartments above). The surrounding businesses, however, are different. Kate is blessed with a grocery store, a Greek deli, and Pete’s Pets (a pet food store) as neighbors.  I am blessed with a hair salon, an Irish dance studio, and a sports bar.  Both studios are located on the same block as several infamous dive bars.


·        Gremlins.  In my first book, Kate’s studio is plagued by a variety of mysterious issues, including plumbing problems, an “unlockable” front door, and mysteriously flickering lights.  My studio has struggled with the same issues.  The door lock and toilet have been replaced, but we still can’t figure out those darned lights, after 10 years of trying. And now there’s the phantom wall squeak….

·        Murder. About a year after my first book was finished, a man was murdered in a pet store parking lot a block away from my studio.  Kate finds her first body in the parking lot shared by her studio and the pet store.  Hopefully that trend won’t continue.

Differences:

·        Size matters.  Kate’s studio is bigger than mine and offers significantly more classes.  She spends a lot more time on site at her studio than I do as well.  (I manage my business from a home office.)

 

·        Yoga lineage.  There are a gazillion types of yoga out there, and Kate’s studio offers many of them. (Except for hot yoga—she could never afford the heat bills!)  My studio is dedicated to the Viniyoga lineage, and all of the teachers who work at Whole Life Yoga have been personally certified by me.

·        Longevity.  My studio opened in 2001.  Kate’s has only been open for about two years when the first book opens.  She’s facing many of the financial struggles I did when I first opened, but thankfully most of those days are behind me.


In the end, the biggest similarity between the two studios is their intent.  Both Kate and I believe that yoga can serve all people regardless of shape, size, age, or fitness level.  That includes you!

Go out and find your own version of Serenity Yoga!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

About Tracy:

My writing is an expression of the things I love best: yoga, dogs, and murder mysteries. I'm a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, WA. I enjoy sharing my passion for yoga and animals in any form possible.  My husband and I live with our challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha and our bonito flake-loving cat Maggie. When I’m not writing, I spend my time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at my favorite local ale house.

For more information, visit me online at http://tracyweberauthor.com/ and http://wholelifeyoga.com/

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teaching An Old Dog

by Shannon Baker

I’ve reached that curmudgeon stage when I find myself grumbling, “I don’t like change.” Some of you who know me will laugh at that because I’ve moved eight times in the last eleven years. But I’m talking about technology.

I haven’t always been so sluggish. Back in the day, I actually could program my VCR. I was an early adopter with computers, using one of the first Peachtree accounting programs. I wrote features for an online newspaper when it was a brand new phenomenon, and had a bag phone before the Big Lebowski made it look cool.



Still, as technology accelerates and especially since my last daughter left home, I seem to be falling further behind. I was just getting the hang of using the remote to DVR and create my own programing when we moved to rural Nebraska last fall, where we don’t get those handy options.

Last spring, a friend of mine published an audio book and wanted me to review it. Strictly because of this need-to-know, I entered in the world of audio books. That’s so freaking awesome! I can walk and listen to books on my phone. I’m getting so much more “reading” done now. I’m even really close to figuring out Overdrive and being able to borrow audio books from the library. As soon as the books I bought are finished, I’ll need-to-know how and I’ll do it.

Now, thanks to my good friend, Mark Stevens, (Allison Coil Mystery Series), I have to learn yet another new thing. He keeps telling me about these great podcasts for writers and readers. In fact, one of his suggestions—which he wrote about in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers August newsletter—is called just that, Reading and Writing Podcast.



How hard can this be?

Ha. All I wanted to do was download these podcasts onto my phone so I can happily tromp around town, ear buds inserted and listen. But my phone is an Android and these are iTunes. Or something. At any rate, my silly phone refuses to download the app to make listening possible. I know there’s a way to do this and it frustrates me to no  end!

After way too much time, I finally resorted to kyping my husband’s iPod Shuffle. Then I had to figure out how to use that. Not impossible but a small learning curve was involved. All set and very happy, phone stuffed into my pocket--because who would leave the house without the ability to check email or take a call?—Shuffle clipped onto my T-shirt, earbuds firmly planted, I can wander around my small town for hours. I’m reading and being inspired and sinking deeply into the writer’s brain.



But now I have a very low-tech problem. Walking and running have always been my free-brain time. That’s when my mind wanders and weaves into my stories and characters. Whenever I have a particularly hairy story issue, I strap on my tennis shoes and off I go.

I love my new resources but I need my old untethered time, too. Guess I’ll just have to put in more miles.

How about you? How do you balance reading and learning with dreaming time?



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dying for a Sequel

By Tj O'Connor, author of Dying to Know and Dying for the Past

There is nothing more gratifying, and terrifying at the same time, than publishing your first novel. Before getting that heart-stopping telephone call from your agent that, yes, some brilliant and forward-thinking publisher would be putting your work to print, you had but one litmus test for your story—publishing. After the call, the terror sets in—what if no one buys it? What if the critics hate it? Worse… what the hell will I do for an encore?

The answers to the first two questions—sales and critics—is fodder for a future blog. For now, the answer to “what the hell will I do for an encore” is easy…Write a sequel.

And therein lies the terror. Oh, so many terrors. What if I can’t capture the story and characters again? What if the first one fails and the second one is worse? Worse… what if the first one is great and the second one stinks? What if… And so goes the sleepless nights and reams of paper in search of the solution.

When Midnight Ink demonstrated their class and stature in the publishing world by signing me to write three novels in the Gumshoe Ghost series (note—this series title is not my doing…honest!), I had already penned two more murder, different mysteries—New Sins for Old Scores, which my agent is currently trying to place in the market (any of you publishing pros out there, here’s your chance… call my Kimberley Cameron!) and The Killing of Tyler Quinn, which is presently in rewrite. But Midnight Ink wanted two more Oliver Tucker stories—the Gumshoe Ghost himself—so I teed up Dying for the Past, which will be out January 8, 2015, and Dying to Tell, coming in 2016.

The first dilemma I had was how to transition from book one to book two, Dying for the Past. Let me set the stage for the difficulties I had. Book one—Dying to Know—is the story of Oliver “Tuck” Tucker, a detective murdered in the opening chapter who returns to help his wife, Angel, and former partner, Bear Braddock, solve his crime. Of course, there are a half-dozen other important characters, including Hercule, Tuck’s black Lab companion; Poor Nic, a loveable/hateable retired mobster; and several secondary characters of note, too. The story, as with all the sequels, intertwines a current murder with a historical subplot involving murder and intrigue. The two story lines weave and cross back and forth and conclude together. Always. Thus, there are two timelines surrounding the characters—the present concerning the murder, and the distant past surrounding the historical plot. Tuck can move between these timelines and does to solve the cases. It’s like playing three dimensional chess with dead bodies!

So, the dilemma was—do I treat Dying for the Past (book two) like a standalone story or write it as though it’s simply the next chapter of a longer story. In my case, I took an eclectic approach and wrote Dying for the Past as a standalone story, but let the storyline flirt with Dying to Know (book one) as though a continuing chapter in Tuck’s larger story. Thus, in Dying for the Past, I have an entirely new murder(s) and the historical subplot that includes 1939 gangsters, Russian spies, and the search for the book that has the key to modern day spies and traitors. I reintroduced my characters, periodically mentioned the plot and outcome of the Dying to Know—but sparingly—and created a new cast of fresh good guys and bad guys to support those returning characters from Dying to Know. And, much to my pleasure, it worked—having a dead guy solve crimes creates a lot of challenges!

Part of the allure of a good mystery is the characters. They have fears, strengths, weaknesses, and history to unravel. After exhausting myself trying to make Dying to Know a good mystery novel, I was again terrified about how I would keep my main characters fresh, interesting, and still a little mysterious to any reader who already read the first novel. The danger would be having nothing new for the reader to learn about them.
I found the solution by developing the second set of support characters for Dying for the Past. Each of the Gumshoe Ghost sequels will have new characters supporting the story—after all, it’s a murder mystery so not all of them will make it to “The End.” And these new characters allowed me to create new fears, strengths, weaknesses, and storylines for my main characters to evolve. Human nature is that way, right? How you act with one person is not always the same as with another. How you respond to one situation or crisis is not always the same as in another, particularly if new people are involved. I used these new characters to drive my main character’s new storylines and, in doing that, create new things for the reader to discover about them. In book one—Dying to Know— Tuck is learning how to be a dead detective. In book two—Dying for the Past—Tuck finds his family roots; and some are roses and some are deadly nightshade, let me tell you. Now, Angel and Bear are coming to grips with Tuck’s demise—after all, figuring out how to live and work with a dead guy isn’t easy. There are other key characters, too—like Poor Nic, the loveable/hateable retired mob boss—who has so many skeletons in his closet that Tuck can’t count them.

As Tuck’s sequels continue, Tuck will learn more and more about his family and with each one, have to investigate yet another historical crime along with a new one. Angel and Bear will find out that life with and without Tuck has a lot of twists and turns. The new characters in each sequel will bring along their own baggage, influences on the main characters, and body bags.
The biggest conflict I found in writing sequels was deciding which characters to keep around and which to send on vacation. In book one—Dying to Know—I received a lot of great comments about several characters—Poor Nic, the aforementioned love/hate mobster; AndrĂ© Cartier, Angel’s uncle; Detectives Cal Clemens and Mike Spence, the brilliant yet bumbling partners; and even Doc Gilley, Tuck’s spirit mentor. My problem was, in book two—Dying for the Past—I had a new crew of story characters to add and didn’t have room for everyone to return. The questions were: who would sit out the sequels? How do I explain where they went—not everyone can be sick or on vacation, right? Who would be most popular or have the biggest impact on the series? The answer lay in what I like to think was a brilliant strategy—I listened to my readers,  asked my agent and publicist, and read who the critics keyed on. Then, I ignored all that and kept those characters who moved me. You see, certain characters came alive to me—other than Tuck, Angel, and Bear, that is. They presented so many possibilities for future stories and subplots that I had to keep them around and use them to stir things up. In the end, if they stirred things up in book one, they returned to book two. If not, they got the flu, moved away, were out to lunch, on vacation… you get the idea.

After all is said, there were so many challenges to writing my sequels, I cannot recall them all. But it suffices to say, they kept me up many, many nights.
Dying for the Past is a better novel than Dying to Know, and I hope Dying to Tell is better than both. You see, I think I’m learning as I go and my characters are teaching me. Dying for the Past was challenging, too, as it made me search for what I wanted from Tuck, Angel, Bear, and even Poor Nic. With each sequel, I will try to challenge each of my characters to keep my readers—and me—guessing. After all, I write what my characters tell me—resistance to them is futile.

I’ve just wrapped Dying to Tell—book three—and after explaining my process for dealing with sequels, I have some rewriting to do!  I hope you enjoy Tuck’s cases in Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell… visit my site and drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!
 
Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his eight novels and is currently available in bookstores and online. Dying for the Past is his first of two sequels to Dying to Know and will be released January 8, 2015—available now for pre-orders! Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and investigations.

Learn about his world at www.tjoconnor.com and Facebook at www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author.