Monday, March 30, 2015

Finding Clarity

“Ignorance is bliss. Until it isn’t.”—Kate Davidson in A Killer Retreat.

 

Although the primary intention of my mystery series is to entertain, I’ve been known to weave in the occasional yoga teaching. One of the themes in my second book, A Killer Retreat, is overcoming fear. Kate, my yoga teacher protagonist, believes she will soon have to make a decision: marry her boyfriend, Michael, or end their relationship. She’s terrified of both options, so she tries to avoid the issue, hoping that if she hides from the problem, it will eventually solve itself.

Good luck with that, Kate.
The Yoga Sutras say that one of the primary goals of yoga is to learn how to see clearly. But how do you know when you’re clear? For me, clarity comes with a calm certainty. When I’m clear, I know that my decision is right, whether I want it to be or not. Lack of clarity, on the other hand, carries with it an often-uncomfortable energy. That energy can feel like a jittery high or an immobilizing fear. The Yoga Sutras refer to this psycho-emotional suffering as Dukha, a “hole in the cavity of the heart.” For me, it usually feels more like a hole in the lining of my stomach. Some people feel this sensation in their chests, others in their throats, still others as jitteriness and irrepressible activity in their limbs.

In my last teacher training, a student told me that she wanted a crystal ball to guide her decisions. I’ve wished for that same crystal ball many, many times: when I was trying to figure out if I should leave Microsoft; when I considered writing my first book; when I first thought about opening a yoga studio. In each of those cases, I kept reflecting, gathering data, and tapping into my intuition. One day, I knew. And once I know, I never look back.
There are many right choices in life. In fact, the Sutras assert that the exact paths of our lives are largely irrelevant. All that matters is how we relate to them. If I could give Kate—or any of my readers—one piece of advice, it would be this: find a calm place of knowing, choose the path that feels right, and walk it with grateful acceptance. Hopefully Kate will come to a similar conclusion. You’ll have to read the book to find out!  ;-)

May you all have paths filled with light, joy, and an abundance of beauty.

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. 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, March 9, 2015

Rolling a Snowball Uphill: My Theory on Book Marketing

by Shannon Baker

Happy Book Birthday to Tattered Legacy whose official release date was yesterday. This is the third book in the Nora Abbott series and my fourth published book. AND I KNOW NOTHING. (Raise your hand if you added, “Jon Snow.”)


I am a marketing novice, fumbling around, making mistakes, missing opportunities. But here’s the thing, I knew less than nothing before I started out. By the time my first book came out in 2010, I’d been an active member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers for so long I think they called me Granny Shanny behind my back. I was published with a nano press, the puppy mill of presses, and knew I was on my own.
I’d heard about promotion and had taken notes in a zillion (give or take a few) workshops. So I sent out press releases and pleas for reviews. I think the only reviewer that bit was the famed Harriot Klausner (is she still around?) and man, she reviewed everyone.

When the first of the Nora books hit the shelves, I was smack in the middle of a new job. Midnight Ink got it reviewed with the big guys and they had distribution, so I sent out some emails, did one book launch signing, and signed up for a few conferences. I couldn’t see that my efforts made any great difference in sales. But I had a whale of a great time at conferences meeting other writers, hearing what they were up to, both in the writing and marketing side.

One marketing expert told me not to waste my money on conferences. They don’t sell books. But for me, conferences are fuel. I love writers and getting to hang out with them for several days in a row is heaven. I never counted conferences as a marketing tool, that was “me” time for which I must carry around the attendant guilt.

But over and over I was getting the defeating message that all efforts were futile. Blog tours didn’t work. Book signings were a waste of time. I knew from personal experience that press releases were like blowing dandelion seeds into the wind. In the meantime, life threw me for a slight loop-de-loop and when Broken Trust came out last March, I let the defeatists win me over.

Why bother? I didn’t set up one single launch event. I can’t remember if I visited any blogs. I think I probably posted on Facebook a time or two. I threw up my hands and cried uncle. I still went to the conferences, not believing they were doing much for my career, but because they were so much fun.
I’m not sure exactly what happened to smack me upside the head and pull me out of that sad, dark place. It could have been that a bestselling writer, one I’d met at these “fun” conferences, offered to read a the first few chapters and synopsis of a new book I was working on and praised it. Or maybe because my editor loved the book I’d just turned in and said it was the best so far. It could be a nomination for an affirming award or maybe it was that winter finally pulled down the curtain and spring bloomed bright and warm (no small consideration). Whatever the cause, the effect was me emerging from my stupor to start paying attention to marketing.

A friend prodded me with Guerrilla Marketing’s tip to do five things every day, even if they’re small. I got a few bits of SWAG, I drew up a marketing plan for Tattered Legacy, broke it down by month, put specific tasks with completion dates…just like a real business.

I had no expectations for this launch. My goal was to do some things that might help but that I would enjoy. I wanted it to be a celebration of publishing this story that I am proud to have written.

Fellow Inkers Cricket McRae and Mark Stevens and me signing at B&N Loveland March 7 


Here’s what surprised me: I decided to plan a blog tour and thought of the most popular sites I knew. It turns out, these conferences I’d felt guilty about spending money on, had presented an opportunity to get to know lots of people. And some of them had popular blogs and readily agreed to host me.

I set up some book signings, again, just for fun. The first one out of the chute, The Bull Bash in Valentine, Nebraska on Valentine’s Day (MI did me the great favor of printing early enough to have books) was a bigger success than I could have imagined. I’ve done a half dozen of the blog stops and they’ve been fun. I sent out a boat-load of press releases and, gasp, gotten about a 30% response rate.

I can’t tell you if any of this will net sales. But I can tell you this, even though it’s a ton more work than not doing anything, it’s way more fun than doing nothing. I am determined to figure out Twitter. So far, I am half-assed with it because I just don’t get how it works. I’m building my email list and even sent out my first newsletter (which isn’t going to be a newsletter but sort of an announcement thing every now and then).

I’m a total marketing novice but I’m starting to see that hardly anyone starts out on top. It’s a growth  process. Some writers take to it naturally and they shoot up. Some of us are slow starters with inching progress, but everyone grows with one reader at a time. Since I normally spend the bulk of my self-esteem energy looking at what I haven’t accomplished or comparing myself to super stars and falling short, it surprised me one day to realize I have made progress. I don’t have fans sending me daily emails, but some people I don’t know have read my books and bought more.

I’m going to end with advice I’ve heard over and over and am only now believing. You can’t do it all so pick a few things you enjoy. Do those. You might not see a big impact but keep doing it. I am convinced that marketing is like rolling a snowball uphill. It’s work and you have to keep pushing but eventually your results will grow exponentially. I’m at the base of the hill so those of you at the top who can let it roll down the other side without effort, do not put a blow torch to my theory.


Today, in celebration of Tattered Legacy hitting the shelves, I’m guest blogging at Dru’s Book Musings and Get Lost in a Story, both with giveaways. And if you don’t win there, pop over to Goodreads and sign up for a giveaway there, too. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dying For A Little Class


By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past & Dying to Tell
 
Dying is overrated. Having a little class is not.

Stop scratching your head. If you’re a struggling author like me, this will all make sense. If you’re a successful author like we all hope to be, pay attention and remember that catchphrase.

When I was a young boy, I had a tough upbringing at times. I read everything I could get my hands on to hide and maintain a little peace of mind. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. I’ve said this many times, but my early favorites were the works Franklin W. Dixon and his Hardy Boys, Gordon Shirreffs’ The Mystery of the Haunted Mine, and Barbee Carleton’s Mystery of the Witches Bridge. They were huge stories to me and set me on the path to writing. There was a bigger influence, too, and that book came full-circle from my childhood to grab my attention this past week.

That book was Six Days of the Condor by James Grady.

Sometime in the early 70s, my older brother gave me a well-worn paperback copy of Six Days of the Condor. We didn’t have a lot in common back in those days; he was already escaping life in that small town and I was pining for my chance. James Grady’s first novel was my first “mature” novel that took me from the Hardy Boys mysteries into the world of the CIA, murder, intrigue, and thrillers. Six Days was at the beginning of a career that took Mr. Grady into journalism, politics, government, and Hollywood and continues to span decades of success. His is a story well worth catching up on.

For weeks while by brother was home visiting, we spent evenings on the front porch reliving the book and talking about politics, spies, and all that. I was, for the most part, totally lost. But, when you’re a young adventurer like I was, you keep up. This was the first time I’d connected with my brother in years, and my grandfather—who soon passed far too young for my liking—joined the discussions and spun his own tales of World War II in the pacific. That summer was one of my best memories as a kid.

To say that Six Days of the Condor affected me is an understatement.  

My young world exploded. The Hardy Boys—sorry pals—went into a box. I spent hours in the library trying to learn all I could about this new thing called the CIA and everything I could read about our government, politics, and espionage. My research—hold on youngsters, there was no internet or computers—took me days in the library to learn that the best authors were in my new love of thrillers and intrigue. I found them—Alistair MacLean, John le Carré, Mickey Spillane, Robert Ludlum, Raymond Chandler …

Holy crap! Frank and Joe Hardy never packed heat or had the hot babes! They never infiltrated Nazi strongholds or shot it out with rogue spies in Washington either. Where had I been? Grade school, of course. But, boy, was I catching up.

Six Days of the Condor opened my world to great fiction and put the icing on the cake for my future. I was going to be an author. I was going to join the CIA. I was going to fight bad guys and have real life adventure. Me. This poor, barely-passing-English-kid from an unheard-of tiny town in upstate New York. Yes, me.

We all have our heroes and reasons we are who we are. Surprisingly, so many of us get them from great books. Oh, I won’t go as far as to say that James Grady made me who I am or was the single driving force behind my past thirty-six years. No, but it’s in the top three reasons and, without question, was the turning point in my young life from that constant, nagging question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to a dream for chasing.

Why do I belabor this point? Because I’ve been a very lucky guy these past years and I don’t ever want to forget that. I was reminded of that this past Wednesday.

I never joined the CIA. But, for more than a decade, I was an agent with the OSI and ran investigations and anti-terrorism operations all over places most people only read about in books. I chased murderers, spies, and terrorists with some of the finest, most dedicated people I have ever known. Then, during the next few years in the private sector, I have had the fortune to have a mentor—Wally—who is one of the last surviving OSS—World War II’s Office of Strategic Services—operatives in the world and a former senior spook at the CIA. Through the years, I’ve met big shots all over—senior government (of many nations) leaders, politicians, movie stars, rock stars, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve even had the great fortune to know some amazing authors, too, many of whom have become my friends—like bestselling author, Stephen Frey, who has become a friend and influence on my books. And, all along the way, I sort of just took it in stride, never thought of what it meant or what it might come to.

Until last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday morning, I sat down to do some bill-paying work, and a note popped up on my computer from … James Grady. Holy crap on a peanut butter sandwich! Mr. Grady had—for some odd reason—found my mention of him in a blog about how I got started writing and doing my life’s work. He sat down and sent me a Facebook note to say hello. By coincidence, he is currently promoting his latest book, The End of the Condor, the next long-awaited sequel to Six Days of the Condor. In his note, he said something very important—and it is the reason for this blog—One day it would be humbling to have someone comment about me and that I should remember his words. We exchanged a couple more notes and the Ethernet returned to normal.

I heard you loud and clear, Mr. Grady. And thank you again.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan boy. I’ve worked around—and even protected—celebrities and power-brokers in my life. It sort of becomes “just business.” Yet, there is something about one’s childhood heroes that breaks down the dulled senses and makes you feel like you’re thirteen years old again.

And yes, it was humbling—for me, too.

Mr. Grady took his valuable time to drop me a note and give me a little recognition. Of the tons of important and famous folks I’ve met, I can count on my fingers and toes those who ever did that. As an author, the simple fact that he thought enough about our craft and my work to acknowledge my start-up writing career was enough. But his message was ever more important.

So, what does a non-fan boy like me do when a childhood hero reaches out? Gush? Run around giggling like a school girl? (Maybe a little.) No, I grabbed my box of Midnight Ink Dying for the Past promo books (the second in my paranormal series that just released). I signed a copy with a nice note to Conan—a young aspiring writer from upstate New York—and express mailed it out. You see, Conan sent me a short story last year called The Great Pirate Adventure, which I commented on my Facebook page. He was, apparently, thrilled by that little bit of recognition. I’m not sure how old Conan is, but I hope he’s young enough to still be thrilled by a wanna-be author like me just saying hello.

Dying for the Past should be in Conan’s hands by the time this blog posts. I hope it meant as much to him as my note from James Grady. And, one day, I hope Conan writes his own novel or pursues whatever his dreams are. And, I hope he remembers my note to him and passes along that little class that Mr. Grady began this past Wednesday. 

So, as Oliver Tucker said in Dying to Know, Dying is overrated—and from me, having a little class is not.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE AUTHOR OF DYING FOR THE PAST and DYING TO KNOW, available in books stores and e-books from Midnight Ink. His third paranormal mystery, DYING TO TELL, will be released January 2016. He is currently working on a traditional mystery and a new thriller. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying for the Past and Dying To Know are the first of eight novels to be published.  Learn more about Tj’s world at www.tjoconnor.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author

Monday, March 2, 2015

Writers Write

--by Linda O. Johnston

I’m a writer, and I currently write two mystery series for Midnight Ink, as well as romances.

I’ve loved writing, and I’ve loved dogs, all my life.  Probably neither is surprising to anyone who knows me and/or reads my fiction, particularly my mysteries.  I’ve also written some about my love of writing here on InkSpot.

I have been owned by dogs nearly all the time since I was eight years old.

And my writing?  Well, I started saving ideas for school essays when I was in grade school.  In undergraduate school, my major was journalism with an advertising emphasis.  After I graduated, I worked for a small newspaper, then I joined my father’s advertising and public relations firm, where I wrote ads but had the most fun writing articles for some of the clients’ house organs.

Next I went to law school, where I volunteered for the school’s law review.   I also had a couple of articles published—and most students, if they had any published, were limited to one.

Then I clerked for law firms, finally joining one when I graduated and got my law license.  I became a transactional attorney, which meant I wrote contracts—which I considered to be a form of fiction.


During that time I also started writing actual fiction.  But I never gave up on nonfiction.  That includes now, when I’m a published fiction author and inactive lawyer.

Now—well, it won’t be a surprise to anyone that I blog a lot.  I’m now blogging on the first Monday of each month here, at InkSpot.  I blog each Wednesday at Killer Hobbies and on the 6th of each month at A Slice of Orange, the blog of the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America.  Plus, I blog on the 18th of each month at Killer Characters.  Rather, my characters do.  In February, the protagonist of my new Barkery and Biscuits series for Midnight Ink, Carrie Kennersly, introduced herself. I’ll be doing a blog tour when the first Barkery and Biscuits story, BITE THE BISCUIT, is about to be released, in May.

Is that all?  Well, as I’ve mentioned in a prior post here I wrote a few blog posts for a political candidate I like.  I’ve written articles for American Pet Magazine and intend to write more soon.  And I was just recently requested to write some articles about the transformation of some of the residents at the wonderful private animal shelter where I volunteer. 

So… yes, I’m a writer.  I admit it.  I’m proud of it.

And writers write!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Do Awards Boost Anything Except Egos?


My editor, the fabulous Terri Bischoff here at Midnight Ink, recently published a blog article in which she wondered out loud if winning an award—be it the Agatha, Lefty, or Edgar—meant anything to readers or to the future sales of an author.

It’s a valid question. We all bemoan poorly written manuscripts that manage to become New York Times bestsellers. I’ve yet to see a positive correlation between number of awards won and number of copies sold. So, other than hoping for an ego boost, why even bother?
The answer, for me, became clear last Sunday night when my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose, won the Maxwell Award for Fiction. Most of you have probably never heard of the Maxwell awards. In the mystery world, they are barely a blip on the radar. But in another writing community—people who write about dogs—the Maxwell Awards are important. They are the Academy Awards, if you will, of the dog writing community.

If you’ve read my work, you know that I’m dog crazy, and that a 100-pound German shepherd plays a prominent role in my series. Still, I’m a crime writer and my primary goal is to entertain readers.
But that’s not my only goal. My second goal is to save lives.

This moment might not have been possible
without the kindness of a stranger.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, the idea was planted nine years ago. I was walking my then-six-month-old puppy, when I met a man with a gorgeous, healthy-looking male German shepherd. The man stopped me to share that his dog—I’ll call him Thor—had an autoimmune disease called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), and that without special medication with each meal, Thor would starve to death. He warned me to watch for the symptoms of EPI in Tasha, as the rare genetic disorder occurs most commonly in adolescent German shepherds.
Fast forward a year and a half. Tasha began losing weight. A lot it. Twenty-five pounds in a month, to be exact. The vet theorized cancer and recommended exploratory surgery. I insisted that he test for EPI first. When the results came back positive, my now-former vet made it sound like a doggie death sentence.

I remembered Thor, switched vets, joined an EPI support group, and began the process of successful lifelong management. Simply put, that five-minute conversation with Thor’s owner saved my dog’s life.
The tragedy of EPI isn’t the disease itself. Tasha has been thriving with EPI for over eight years. The tragedy is that so few people, veterinarians included, know about it. Dogs often go months or longer without a proper diagnosis. Many die before anyone figures out what’s wrong with them. Even worse, about twenty percent of animals who are diagnosed with EPI are needlessly euthanized without any attempt at treatment.

Writing has done so many great things for me. It’s connected me with fabulous authors, brought out my creativity, and helped me to make new friends. I hope it also spreads the word about EPI. EPI is not a death sentence.
What does any of this have to do with awards?

Winning the Maxwell Award for Fiction has put my work in the hands of other dog writers. The award is making dog readers pick up the book. I’m pretty sure the award-related exposure even sold a copy or two, though honestly, not enough to get excited about. Still, each new reader helps spread the message. Maybe someday one of them will have an animal that is wasting away for seemingly no reason. Maybe they’ll remember Bella, the dog in my books. Maybe that memory will help save a life.
I’ll admit, it’s a lofty goal for a piece of metal strung on a ribbon. But even if the award does nothing else, it gives me hope. Hopefully it provides someone else hope, too.

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/

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

FEBRUARY RELEASES!


By: Maegan Beaumont


Take a look at the fantastic Midnight Ink has to offer this month!




 Death & the Redheaded Woman
By: Loretta Ross 
An Auction Block Mystery #1

Starred Review“Ross’ thoroughly entertaining debut combines smart details about the auction business with two engaging mysteries and a uniformly appealing cast. Fans of small-town cozies, especially those by Denise Swanson, will love this, as will mystery readers who double as thrift-store aficionados and followers of auction reality shows.”—BOOKLIST (STARRED REVIEW)

Drawing Conclusions
By: Deirdre Verne 
A Sketch in Crime Mystery #1

"Verne's mystery is a winner, with plenty of twists and turns, an intriguing heroine and an ending that shocks in more ways than one."—KIRKUS REVIEWS











Starred Review“Lourey skillfully mixes humor and suspense . . . the characters are wonderful and wacky, and the mile-a-minute pace never falters.”
BOOKLIST (STARRED REVIEW)

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Story That Got Away

by Shannon Baker



I had this really great idea for a book. I mean, scorching hot. My daughter and I had occasion to hang out at Denver International Airport and we were struck by some bizarre and disturbing murals. My daughter happened on a website that went into detail explaining a conspiracy theory involving a One World Order group and bunkers below the airport to house the world’s elite in the event of a nuclear holocaust.
I was off and running. Following Internet rabbit holes revealed how extra-terrestrials or aliens from the center of the earth had various plans for DIA. The runways created a Swastika, the murals and other public art warned of biologic warfare. I gathered it all up, plotting, planning, creating a story that wound Hopi legend and belief in Sky People with DIA and stuff worthy of Trilateral Commission mythology.
I stuck Nora (the protagonist of the Nora Abbott Series) in the middle and plopped it all in Moab, UT amid polygamists and environmentalists. I’m telling you people, this was an amazing plot.
According to my editor, it was too amazing.
But, but, but…
She didn’t think it was a great idea to use theories that could easily be debunked with a minimum of real research and wondered if I might be opening myself up for lawsuits by claiming certain far-fetched stories as truth.
I’d written the whole book with the premise of Evil lurking at DIA as the central event. The entire plot was formulated from the seed planted the day we wandered around the airport. I began to examine the book with fresh eyes. If you didn’t know the starting point was the bizarre and unsettling DIA weirdness, how would you see the plot? What would be the most important elements?
There’s Nora, our protagonist and what she’s gone through in the previous two books to bring her to this point. She’s the executive director of an environmental non-profit. There’s her best friend, the woman who is producing a documentary film to advocate for expanding the borders of Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. Nora’s mother, Abigail always wants to butt in and the books all deal with Hopi tribal history and legends.
When I boiled it all down, I discovered the DIA element was the least important in telling the story I had in mind. I pulled it out without disrupting an already crowded story line.
Other writers understand the way stories develop and morph from first idea to published book. I find it’s good to stay flexible, able to bend the original idea. If you’re like me and get stuck with a questionable premise, it’s great to unfold it and smooth out the crinkles to fold again.
The non-writers in my life are driven to drink (yes, they’d probably drink anyway) by this nutso process. I discuss plots with my favorite guy over cocktails in the hot tub. He’s often more vested in the original idea than I am and gets frustrated when I say casually, “Not anymore. I changed that.”
Eventually the books get made, messy process notwithstanding. What about you, what’s the best idea that you never wrote?

BTW- Tattered Legacy (without the DIA plotline) is available March 8th.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Farewell Is A Killer

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

 
As a mystery writer, death becomes almost cliché—at least, fictional death. It’s the heart of a story and everything surrounds it. We treat death as no more than a plot and the make-believe root of our writing lives. It’s easy to forget what death really is.

In real life, it’s truly a killer.

Saying good-bye is one of the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It was no matter that it came at the end of a long, wonderful, and full life, either. It was still hard. Gut-wrenching. Sad.

I am generally a tough guy—not a muscled bouncer or martial arts Ninja—although in my past years I could be pretty tough, too. No, I control my emotions from others’ perception and choose to most often. Friends and family have thought me removed, even unfeeling at times. That’s not from a lack of emotion—no, not all—but from an ability to take those feelings and lock them up when it’s needed. Maybe it’s from years under an abusive father. Maybe it’s from my often tumultuous past life. Or, perhaps, it’s just my way of protecting myself.

But not with Mosby. Not when it was his time. I lost my way to the emotion-lockbox. My stone exterior crumbled to tears and pain—a weeping, trembling wreck. My boy—best friend and companion—was done. Mos, my 90 pound yellow Lab had reached the end of his 14-plus years and couldn’t go on. He had tumors, cancer, arthritis, and lord only knows what else—although you’d never know it. We cared well for him and up until the last week of his life, there had been little pain but for the arthritis in his knees. A few good meds and my carrying him up and down stairs whenever he wished took care of that. He repaid me with devotion. When not stalking me for a treat or meal, he was sleeping close to my desk or at my feet watching a movie. Never complaining. Never grumbly or irritable. Never far away. 

At the end, he was just done—his life was yesterday and there was no more to have. His body was failing and his dignity was nearly spent. His pure bred Lab companions—Maggie, the Chocolate, and Toby, the Black—were constant attendants. Toby walked at his side up and down the stairs whenever I was not near—gently pushing him against the wall to keep him from stumbling. Mags found me whenever the old boy needed something and I failed to noticed. He had raised them from pups and they were shouldering him in his last days.

People should have such compassion and loyalty. People should try to understand the love and devotion that Mos gave to everyone. I challenge you.

 

As a young dog, Mos grew up with five teenagers my wife and I raised in North Western Virginia. His favorite things were food, toys, family, food … and rules. If there was a rule in the house—for dog of child—he enforced it. If the boys were getting too rough around the basement pool table, Mos summoned me. If my cooking threatened to alert the smoke alarm, he barked a warning. If one of the other dogs were out of line, he sought their correction.

Except at Christmas time. Rules be damned.
 
Christmas with five teenagers was a free-for-all. And our kids always made sure they had a wrapped present for Mos and the others. And up until Christmas morning, they hid presents in their rooms out of sight and mind. Did you ever try to hide a dog toy from a Lab? Before Christmas Eve, Mos would have found each and every one of his presents and deftly opened them—so much for rules! One year, he opened my daughters closet door to dig beneath the family presents and retrieve his own. How? Because at an early age he learned to roll his nose between doorknobs and doorframe and open a door. How did he know which were his gifts and which were not? Practice.

His favorite game—other than eating—was hide and seek. One of my daughters, and later one of my grandchildren, often played with him often. She’d sneak away and hide, and within minutes, Mos had patrolled the house and sniffed her out. A bark, a pat, a treat, and he was on the chase again.  

Mos was the center of the family and for good reason. He played Frisbee with everyone. Stayed close for the beer pong and pool games. Was within arm’s reach of the grandchildren as they learned to walk and play. He even sat at the dinner table—yes, in a chair—to listen to evening banter and share in the laughs. But no responsibility was as important to him as being my co-author, office mate, late-night movie partner, and constant foot-warmer. Well, perhaps dinner-time taste-tester! Even at the end in my home office, Mos barked for me to help him move from wherever he was to wherever I was—that distance could be no more than feet. If that was in the basement gym, than damn the stairs and carry him down.

Mosby died Veteran’s Day—three months ago. It’s only been a short time and I still get up in the morning and step careful beside the bed for fear I might step on him. As I work in my den, his ashes are nearby beside a ceramic likeness and a photograph. It’s taken me these three months to have the clearness of vision to write these words. Yet, I cannot say good-bye. The starch of my emotions fail me with his memory so much that I cannot bury him—should we ever leave this home, I could never leave him behind.

What a sap. What a woosie boy. What a cry-baby! No—he earned every tear I’ve shed.

My only solace is that at 14 +, he did not go because of his ailments over the years that I lined up doctors to cure. He loved life and family and dinner and toys. He reveled in the love he received from all of us. His life had been so full, it could simply take no more. There was nothing more for him and he made room for another to find this home. In time—not soon—we’ll do that.

Life is like that. It gives and takes. I think you have to give first because when it takes, it’s too late to make up for the loss. You have to pay in advance. With Mos, we paid plus interest. I know he knew that. At the end, he found the strength to climb onto my bed—something he hadn’t done in over two years—and lay his head on my lap. He wanted me to know it was time ... and that it was okay.

Mosby’s his first love, Belle, passed this last week, too. Belle was Mos’ age and was my daughter’s dog. We got her thirteen years ago to be his companion while the family was at work. They grew up together and when my daughter married and moved across the county, Belle went with her. We, of course, had brought Maggie into the family by then. Like Mos, Belle succumbed to life. She was14 plus years, too, and had a full life. Losing those two so close together was devastating to us all. Strangely, one has to wonder if they were not supposed to be together. Dogs need companionship—perhaps here and there, too.

One can hope.

My current mystery series, The Gumshoe Ghost, has Hercule, a black Lab as a key character. Not because I wanted to fit into the cozy community or knew in advance having an animal was chic. I included Hercule because Labs are so much a part of my life that I couldn’t see my character not having one. In the future, the importance of a dog will have a new meaning.

I’m still surrounded by sweet, loving Labs (and another daughter’s Mastiff, too). They keep me company as I toil over my keyboard. They are a great comfort and as close to me as Mos ever was. Yet, no matter how close they are, there is still that void.

I hope it doesn’t leave too soon. Pain is a reminder of loss. I don’t mind keeping him around a little while longer—even if it’s painful. Nothing so important should be easily lost.

A lot of you will understand me having to commit this to words. For those of you who can’t—or who call me a silly man—you have no idea what you’re missing. Deep down, loss reveals something so amazing.

 Tj O’CONNOR IS THE AUTHOR OF DYING FOR THE PAST and DYING TO KNOW, available in books stores and e-books from Midnight Ink. His third paranormal mystery, DYING TO TELL, will be released January 2016. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying for the Past and Dying To Know are the first of eight novels to be published.  Learn more about Tj’s world at www.tjoconnor.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author