Friday, October 17, 2014

First Page Blues


By: Deirdre Verne




I struggle with the first few paragraphs of anything. This blog entry alone has been started and trashed at least five times. Within seconds of churning out the first paragraph, I almost always require immediate feedback. I’m not asking for much. A simple ‘you’re on the right track’ from just about anyone is enough to boost my confidence. Without the thumbs up, I have trouble continuing to the second page. Once I get going, however, I’m good for the next three hundred. But that first page! It’s a killer.
A writer friend of mine warned me recently about soliciting criticism. “Never show your work to your family until it’s published,” she said. 
Good advice -- ten years too late. Enter my husband. He now refuses to read my writing, insisting that I purposely killed him off in the opening scene of my first (unpublished) book. Talk about sensitive. It’s not like I’m writing a memoir.
Then I tried my mother. She loves to read and she loves me. She’s also a teacher. Her only attempt to read my writing started with her licking the tip of a red pen. Let’s just say it didn’t end well.
Based on my prior experiences, I’ve trained myself to complete an entire chapter without external input. Then I seek out a peer from my writing group to provide constructive and actionable criticism. I still need the occasional pat on the back, but I’ve learned to replace my need for immediate gratification with a heaping bowl of ice cream.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Fact vs. Fiction

by Shannon Baker

I am not the kind of writer who can make up whole worlds from my imagination. My plots always come from real stuff, the cool facts I read about. For instance, when I moved to Flagstaff and found out about the controversy to pump manmade snow on the San Francisco Peaks--land sacred to 12 tribes--I had to write a story about it

I needed a protagonist in the center of the storm who had everything at stake. That turned out to be Nora Abbott, owner of the ski resort. Driven, insecure, timid and ferocious in equal measure, Nora sprang onto the pages.

In my research about the tribes involved, I stumbled across the Hopi. Suddenly, my book took off in a whole new direction that lent itself to a mystery series. My Hopi research turned up so many intriguing aspects of their history, culture, and beliefs I couldn’t address even a fraction in one book. So I was excited when Midnight Ink offered me a three-book deal. Tainted Mountain delves into the Hopi prophesies and explains a little bit about their ceremonies. It introduces kachinas and their role in Hopi lives.



For Broken Trust, I wanted to focus on a different aspect of Hopi’s connection with the world. Hopi are concerned about end times. According to Hopi beliefs, we now live in the fourth world and we’ve just about messed it up so badly we’re approaching the end of this world and emergence to the fifth world. Sad news for most of us, since not very many will survive to start the fifth world.

In Broken Trust, Nora returns to her favorite place, Boulder, and lands a job at an environmental trust. (Coincidently, I also moved back to Boulder while I was working on this book.) But all is not as it seems. The trust is a hotbed of conflict and corruption. Nearly a half million dollars is missing and Nora’s predecessor is murdered.

Nora’s mother pops onto the scene with her own drama. She is determined to hook Nora up with handsome Cole Huntsman. Cole has been waiting for a year to let Nora get over the death of her husband and the traumatic events in Flagstaff, but he’s ready to start a relationship with her. In the meantime, with the help of quirky staffers at the Trust and an Ecuadorian hunk, Nora uncovers a plot that could destroy one of the most pristine locations on the planet. 



And how, you might or might not be asking, is such monumental destruction possible? That was the really fun part for me. I got to research conspiracy theories surrounding HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research) and using weather as a weapon of mass destruction. This stuff is scary/interesting. I spent hours watching Jessie Ventura and others present the case that the shadowy Powers That Be are planning to control our minds/kill us all/wreak havoc on the environment. I dabbled in learning a little (very little) about Tesla towers and the potential for sustainable energy.

When I sold Tainted Mountain I was happy and proud of my new baby. We all know the analogies of writing and publishing books to having babies. I don’t know if anyone else felt this way, but when I was expecting my second baby, I worried I’d never be able to love it as much as I loved my first one. And even though I’d planned and wanted the baby with all my heart, part of me was jealous it would come between me and my firstborn. Weird, I know. But I kind of had the same misgivings about creating a series and wondering if I’d love the second book as much as the first.

The book is here and, just as it was with my kids, I do love book two as much! I learned a lot between book one and two and even more between two and three. It turns out I like writing a series and I’m glad Nora got to live on.

Look for Tattered Legacy, which is set in Moab, next spring.



What about you? What is the most interesting or fun fact you learned while reading fiction?


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fall Releases from Midnight Ink!


By: Maegan Beaumont

Check out these great new mysteries for Fall!

Black Thursday
By: Linda Joffe Hull 
A Mrs. Frugalicious Shopping Mystery #2 

"A fun and savvy mystery."BOOKLIST
Catwalk
By: Sheila Webster Boneham 
An Animals in Focus Mystery #3


“Janet MacPhail's latest adventure will delight dog lovers, cat lovers, and mystery lovers…. Five stars for Catwalk!” —SUSAN CONANT, AUTHOR OF THE DOG LOVER'S MYSTERY SERIES
The Question of the Missing Head
By: E. J. CoppermanJeff Cohen 
An Asperger's Mystery #1 

 "[A] delightful and clever mystery."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY




Lost Under a Ladder
By: Linda O. Johnston 
A Superstition Mystery #1

"Doggone cute."—LIBRARY JOURNAL

Adobe Flats
By: Colin Campbell 
A Resurrection Man Novel #3 

"A stylish noir voice."—KIRKUS REVIEWS
Beauty with a Bomb
By: M. C. Grant 
A Dixie Flynn Mystery #3


"Readers will cheer for this avenging less-than-angel as she goes after some very bad people." —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

Of Merlot & Murder
By: Joni Folger 
A Tangled Vines Mystery #2 

Lively and entertaining . . . [a] well wrought whodunit." —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY


 Unraveled Visions
By: Nina Milton 
A Shaman Mystery #2

"[A] thrilling tale." —RT BOOK REVIEWS


"A solid bet for Nevada Barr and Tricia Fields fans." —LIBRARY JOURNAL












"A classic country-house mystery, with modern day twists and turns adding to the fun." —BOOKLIST














Maegan Beaumont is the author of the award-winning Sabrina Vaughn thriller series. A native Phoenician, Maegan's stories are meant to make you wonder what the guy standing in front of you in the Starbucks line has locked in his basement, and feel a strong desire to sleep with the light on. When she isn't busy fulfilling her duties as Domestic Goddess for her high school sweetheart turned husband, Joe, and their four children, she is locked in her office with her computer, her coffee pot and her Rhodesian Ridgeback, and one true love, Jade.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Launch Month

--by Linda O. Johnston

It's October--launch month for my new Superstition Mystery Series! 

I have been writing for quite a while, and LOST UNDER A LADDER, the first in the series, is far from being my first published novel, but it's different and new and I'm very excited about it. 

Why write about superstitions?  Why not!  Not everyone considers himself superstitious, but even so most of us will knock on wood or cross our fingers to try to bring ourselves good luck.

My protagonist Rory Chasen is an especially dubious person.  She never considered herself superstitious--but then her fiance walked under a ladder and died shortly afterward.  Was his death a result of walking under a ladder?  She needs to know--and so she goes to Destiny, California, which is centered around superstitions, to try to find out.

There, she launches herself into a new life, a new career as the manager of a pet boutique instead of being an assistant manager at a chain pet supply store.  LOST UNDER A LADDER is something new for her, too--especially when she finds herself having to solve a murder.

Me?  Well, I solve murders a lot.  That's what a cozy mystery author does--although I also create them first.  But this series is new in several ways to me.  It takes place in a small, fictional town instead of Los Angeles.  It includes a lot about dogs, yes, as my other mysteries do, but it also centers around something else: superstitions.

This series is also my first for Midnight Ink, although I do have a second series to begin with them next year, the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries. 

I enjoy trying something new, especially when it comes to my writing.  My fingers are crossed (of course!) that this launch, in addition to being fun, and busy because of all the blogs and other promo I'm doing, is the harbinger of a well-received new series!

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.