Monday, October 24, 2016

Writing and Research and Travel. Oh My!

By Tracy Weber

Most of my Downward Dog Mystery series is set in the Seattle area, but in my fifth book (tentatively titled PreMeditated Murder) Kate and crew  go on a road trip to Cannon Beach, Oregon, to solve...

Well, that's part of the mystery! 

My love for Cannon Beach, however, is no secret. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit this past weekend and refamiliarize myself with the settings of  the pivotal scenes in the novel. Please join me and my three-and-a-half-month-old German shepherd pup, Ana, on a virtual tour--complete with some teasers!

We stayed at the Hallmark resort (the building in the photo below).  Our room had a cozy fireplace and overlooked Haystack Rock.

This was the view from our room: the gorgeous Haystack Rock.  We didn't spend much time in the hotel, but when we did, Ana hung out on the deck, begging to go back outside.
Of course, we timed our activities so we could visit Haystack Rock at low tide and explore its famous marine gardens up close.
The city of Cannon Beach is colorful, quaint, and covered in flowers, even in late October.

Ana checked out the local dog stores, dreaming dreamy dreams of all of those treats.  Of course, a dog supply store will be in the novel.

But to be honest, she really wanted to visit the local salt water taffy store.   Can you blame her?

Eventually, we abandoned our touring to visit potential locations for a murder.  This one looked promising.

Then again, wouldn't this be a great place to hide a body?

Perhaps Bella could lead Kate to the body by finding the deceased person's shoe.

Of course, not everything in the book will be about finding dead bodies. This courtyard, which will be reimagined, will be a key location in the mystery.

As will Whale Park.

Of course, no trip to Cannon Beach would be complete without a photo op in front of my favorite sailor.  He may or may not make it into this book, but he was part of Murder Strikes a Pose.  Anyone remember how?

The trip was way too busy, and it happened to be on the rainiest Cannon Beach weekend in the past two years. Now hubby and I have the perfect excuse to go back this summer.  If you ever travel to the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend a trip to this gem of a city.  If not, well, you can visit it in my next book!

Tracy Weber

books available
PS--all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at my author page.  Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Setting Versus Sense of Place

By Lisa Alber

The other day I posed a question on Facebook:

Hive mind question--I'm curious: What do you mean when you use the terms "setting" versus "landscape" versus "sense of place"? To what extent are they interchangeable?

I had been invited to be the author of the evening for a monthly series called "Wordscrafters and Wine on Wednesdays." As the guest, I was expected to talk in a teacherly fashion, which is to say impart craft wisdom, tips, tricks, how-tos to other writers.

I said "yes" to the event because a friend asked, because I support the nonprofit that hosts the event, and because I try to say "yes" to things. But ... I'm not a teacher, never have been, and I don't have natural teacher skillz -- and besides, what craft knowledge did I think I could impart anyhow? I'm the perpetual student of writing craft.

I decided to talk about an aspect of writing that I love, which is an aspect of the craft that also confounded me at the beginning of my writing journey: "sense of place."

What is that reeeealllly? Isn't it the same thing as saying "setting"? (And then there's the term "landscape" -- but I set that topic aside for my talk.)

As I learned when I posed the question on Facebook, people think of "setting" versus "sense of place" (versus "landscape") in slightly different ways, much of this being a question of semantics. Perhaps we writers think about these terms in ways that help us write the best stories we can. For me, this means that "setting" is not synonymous with "sense of place."

When I was starting out, I didn't understand what the fuss was about when it came to "sense of place." I was writing a novel set in western Ireland circa 2008, and -- duh -- the way to render this setting for readers is through specific detail that uses all five senses.

Ta-da -- "sense of place."

Yeah -- NOT. I was missing something in my understanding of the craft of sense of place, but, of course, being a beginner, I didn't know what I didn't know. This is where workshopping and feedback come in handy, where the revision process enhances our understanding of craft.

What I didn't realize was that beautiful, specific settings don't become "sense of place" until you infuse them with character. Without using your POV character as the filter through which you render the world, all you've got is description that's static. No emotional resonance. No soul. No heart.

You know when you hear readers say that they skip the descriptions? I would bet in most cases, those descriptions are static -- just the author describing the environment around the character rather than describing the environment through the character. I think of this as "pertinence." Is the description pertinent to the character at this moment in the story?

So, to me, "sense of place" is setting + characterization. Sense of place is the whole world the character inhabits, the outer world plus the POV character's interior landscape (there's that "L" word again--but I like using the word in this context), which includes her inner conflicts, agendas, goals, mood, aches, emotions, cultural context (say, for example, being a newcomer to the place versus a native), etcetera.

Imagine a kitchen window above a sink with sunlight coming through it, highlighting dew on a spider web. That's nice, but so what? Easy enough to be specific, but is this description also pertinent?

Adding character, let's pretend you have a grieving mother of a dead child: Perhaps the spider web dangles in tatters as the spider huddles off to the side, not even trying to repair it. The sunlight highlights the fragility of the spider's little world, so easily torn.

Or, a rebellious teenage daughter: Stuck like the frickin' spider, always the same web, and it maybe looks beautiful, all perfect and symmetrical and pleasing to the eye, but that spider is a prisoner--it just keeps doing the same thing day in and day out until it dies.

These are simplistic examples that touch on what I mean when I think of "sense of place." You may ask, What about so-called "literary" novels that are known for their long descriptive passages? I maintain that the ones that really work, the ones where you don't skip reading those passages, are infused with character. The character's voice and attitude coming through in how they perceive their world--and so those scenes still have forward momentum. Whereas, static description halts the story, or at least slows it way down, and sometimes reads like <gasp> authorial intrusion.

And if that pretty picture of the sun-glistening spider web isn't pertinent to the character in that moment? CUT IT. Find some other way to render the character's environment that provides emotional resonance. Sink full of moldy dishes to help show that character is terribly depressed? One chipped antique teacup to show the character's genteel but impoverished circumstances?

Specific and pertinent. (Also, remember the other four senses--not just visual.) I can't tell you how long it took me to get a grip on this. I was great with description/setting, but I sucked at sense of place.

There's so much you can do with sense of place. You can pan out to an omniscient POV to set a mood or tone (gothic novels are great at this) and then when you pan-in to the character POV you echo that mood or tone with the way the character filters her surroundings. Using sense of place is a great tool for foreshadowing, increasing suspense, and showing character in general.

Whew! So, come to find out that I did have a lot to say about this topic, and, in the end, the participants of the event (which was held in a winery--so, yes, wine!) engaged in a rousing discussion that went beyond my take on "sense of place."

Do you skip reading the descriptions? What do you mean when you use the terms "setting" versus "sense of place"?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Big Fat Yawns

I'm trying to come up with something I've done in the last month that anyone would find interesting and I'm coming up with a big blank. I fell and skinned my knee. I saw an old college friend I haven't seen in close to thirty years. I finally remembered to buy a stash of emery boards to keep at my mother's place so I can do her nails whenever I feel like it.

Not exactly blog worthy material.

The truth is, my life is often very boring on the outside. I sit on my couch and read student papers and write my books. Since it's often close to a year between book releases, there often doesn't seem to be much happening at all.

Inside, however? Inside I'm like a riot at an all night rave! There's so much going on inside my head I don't know how to express it all. People are getting murdered. People are falling in love. People are reaching for the stars. Unfortunately, all those people are imaginary and even good friends look at you funny when they ask what's going on and you give me them a long discourse on the events in the lives of your imaginary friends.

I've had jobs where it looked like I was doing stuff all the time. Frankly, a lot of them left me bored. So If I have to choose, I'll choose my exciting interior life hunkered down here on my couch with my imaginary friends.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Reading on Steroids

Edith Maxwell here. Well, I'm not not on steroids, but last month an event honored my mystery, Delivering the Truth, in a way that went way above and far beyond your average five-minute author reading. PLUS - I'm giving away a large-print edition of the book to one commenter here before midnight eastern time today! Details at the end of the post.

I might have mentioned it here, but last spring the Whittier Home Association asked if I would "mind" if they featured my book in their annual Celebrating Whittier event, and also suggested they would propose it for an All-Community Read. "MIND?" I replied, astonished. Why, no, I wouldn't mind.

The staged reading took place on September 10 at the historic Amesbury Friends Meetinghouse - where Whittier worshipped.

Local actors Chuck Kennedy and Kate Bernardoni portrayed Whittier and my midwife, Rose Carroll. I narrated, tying the scenes together using a script our town's Poet Laureate Lainie Senechal wrote based on the book.

Lainie Senechal, Chuck Kennedy, Kate Bernardoni, and author yours truly
It was a huge success. A hundred people turned out. The costumes were perfect. All our rehearsals over the summer paid off. 

A hot August rehearsal

The local cable TV station filmed it. And now you can watch it! Truly, not your average reading.
Chuck in front of Whittier's portrait in the John Greenleaf Whittier Home Museum in Amesbury, MA

Readers: What has been your favorite reading to listen to? Do you like it when authors read, or would you rather they didn't? Writers: Has your work ever been staged?

Remember - one lucky commenter will win a large-print edition of the book! Leave a comment or question for me here before midnight eastern time today. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

GUEST AUTHOR: Julia Thomas Returns to Talk Research

Webmistress Lisa here. Julia Thomas' debut novel, THE ENGLISH BOYS, came out during the summer to great reviews. I'm happy that she wanted to visit us again to talk about her research process--including for her second novel (yay!). Welcome, Julia! ~Lisa

The Importance of Research

Hi, Inkspot readers! Today, I want to talk about how I do research.  It helps that I happen to be married to a mystery writer.  His name is Will Thomas, and he’s written eight books in an award-winning mystery series involving two Victorian detectives named Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn. For years, he’s said that research was his favorite part of writing, and because we love England and reading classic mysteries by authors like Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, I could see why. What’s easier than picking up a favorite book and soaking up the ambience and mystery that the writer has created entirely for us?

For years, I was happily in the background of my husband’s writing career, typing for him, editing here and there, and working as a research assistant to help in any way I could. And then one day I realized that all of the behind-the-scenes work I had done was not only for his benefit; I was accruing a great deal of information that could be used for a novel of my own.

Set aside the fact that I had told myself I wouldn’t write a book set in England, or that I wouldn’t write a mystery. It turned out that those years of research and life experiences made it an easy choice for my debut novel, The English Boys, when inspiration finally hit. So, I’d like to share some of the tips of doing great research when you’re writing a novel.

Whenever possible, visit the location you plan to write about. I was lucky enough to have a husband who had set his books in London and wanted to do research there. Most of the on-site experiences occurred before I ever began to write my book. I had stood on the grounds of Westminster Abbey, without knowing that the opening page of my future novel would be set in that very spot. Several scenes from the novel were written from direct experience, too: the pub where Daniel and Marc discuss the murder of Tamsyn Burke, as well as the courtyard of St. Mary Abbots Church in London near Daniel’s flat. Having spent time in that courtyard added to my ability to describe it to the reader.  It helped to know the hustle and bustle of the city and its rhythm before I began to write.

But, of course, we are not always able to travel to the town or country where our novel has been set.  In that case, material gained from independent research can help give you the sense of realism you want in your book. Here are some tips to help.

Read, read, read, and hit the library hard. The library is an excellent resource for anything you want to know. You can’t assume that everything you read online is accurate. Make sure you back up your suppositions with facts that you can pin down in actual books. Although many libraries are making the move to provide more digital than print information, interlibrary loans allow you an opportunity to access information your own library might not have. These are usually available for a very small fee and give you a wider field of information for your writing.

Go online to look for videos. In my second novel, I wanted to have my characters walk a particular path close to an actual river, in a place I had not been to before. Believe it or not, when I Googled it, I found a video of someone who had walked the path, filmed it on their camera, and uploaded it to YouTube, which provided the very experience I needed to bring a chapter alive. I could “walk” that path and see precisely what my character would see when I wrote the scene.

Know your facts. Because I write crime novels, I always do research into the laws and statutes specific to the location about which I am writing. I also make it a habit to read newspaper articles from that area, which helps give my writing a finer sense of definition and purpose. It’s important to be as authentic as possible so that your readers are satisfied.

Keep a journal. I record all kinds of facts and trivia that appeal to me, some of which will later appear in a book. The things we ourselves learn as we go along in life add touches of realism to your story.

Know your characters long before they appear on paper.  I once had the opportunity to hear an interview with the late author Henning Mankell, who wrote the Wallander series, and I will never forget his advice: know everything that will happen in the story before you write a single word.  While most of us won’t know the whole story before we begin - novels are often organic and morph into something interesting along the way - I’ve tried to get to know my characters in a deeper way than I once thought I would. I write practice scenes and character sketches to see how they speak and behave. I get to know their feelings and habits to understand the conflicts they’re dealing with long before they are faced with whatever situation I am going to put them in. 

Interview sources, whether in person, by email, or by phone. For my second novel, I emailed Harrod’s department store in London to ask them a particular question to help with a scene. They were most helpful, and with that information I was able to add a detail to my book that will matter later. Over the last two or three years, I’ve spoken to many direct sources who were able to provide information that I couldn’t have gotten any other way.

A well-written novel is one in which the research shines. And it happens to be one of the most interesting parts of writing.

Happy reading!


Thanks, Julia! I've never thought about looking online for videos before--I'm going to try that today! Do you do most of your research before writing the first draft or just enough to get started? (Is there such a thing as being a pantster when it comes to research?)

Julia Thomas is the author of The English Boys, published by Midnight Ink, which earned a starred review and was named Debut of the Month in the July 2016 issue of Library Journal. She is married to author Will Thomas, who writes a crime series set in Victorian London. In addition to writing, she loves reading, photography, and playing with her three adorable Pekes.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dying Is A Con ...

Taking Tuck and my books on the road is many things for me. It’s book signings, speaking gigs, being Master of Ceremonies for book events and charities … fairs, author panels … highways, hotels, airports … And of all things, it’s also one big con.

Conventions, not a scam, rip-off, or ex-resident of your local prison.

Having never discovered the magic formula hidden on the internet for building a fan base of huge proportions, I have taken the road far, far less travelled by. I don’t limit my book selling travels to writer conventions, book store signings, libraries, or other reader-magnet events. No, that would be simple and easy. Not me.  Oh, no. I do those things, of course, but I also tiptoe on the wild side. I found the fork in the road where the other authors turn right and head for the bookstores and I made a hard-left.

See, I don’t follow the leader very often. Well, hardly at all. In fact, I tend to not only march to my own drum but I don’t bring a drum. I don’t play well in other’s wake.

No, no really. It’s true. Stop laughing …

Three years ago when Dying to Know first launched, I took to the road in a dozen different paths. It was the quintessential tossing ideas against the wall to see what sticked … stuck … stayed there? And each year since, it’s been different. Each year, I experiment with new ideas. Some of them work. Others do not work. All of them have been fun to try.

One of the theories I had was to be places most other authors were not going to be.

Like, Monster-Mania.

You heard me. Monster-Mania Con, Hunt Valley, Maryland.

This cult-following convention has been around for decades. Its platform is as it sounds—the monster, ghoul, and slasher genre—an annual convention for the ghouls, dead-enders, goths, and horror-esque in all of us. There are film-makers; comic book aficionados; and artisans of gadgets, toys, memorabilia, macabre jewelry, and anything for those who want to live in Halloween-land year-round. And of all the fun are the hard-core fans who love cosplay—dressing in the costume of their favorite slasher, basher, killer, and chiller stars.

Many aren’t really in costume. But don’t tell them I said so.

Monster-Mania Con has been interesting to say the least. Over the past couple events here, I’ve met celebrities like Robert Englund of Freddie fame in Nightmare on Elm Street, Scott Wilson (Hershel) of the Walking Dead, Shannon Elizabeth, Kristy Swanson, and a list of others. Some, I couldn’t name a film or pick out of a lineup, but many, like Englund and Wilson, are powerhouse draws for this circuit and well worth the bucks to get in and get a photo with. I, not being a fanboy, buy them a drink or shake a hand and move on. Celebrity-sycophant is not on my resume.

I am sort of the odd-man out in the sea of ghouls and killers and roving vampires and werewolves. I’m the unknown-author of mysteries and thrillers. This year, the only novelist in the entire convention selling Ghost Gumshoe series (God I hate the moniker) about a dead detective solving murders with a paranormal twist. I also began promoting my newest paranormal mystery, New Sins for Old Scores, hitting the shelves in early 2017 from Black Opal Books. Not the best fit for a horror convention, but at least my protagonist is dead. And, trust me, this crowd is all about dead!

After three years, I’m one of the crew here. And oddly enough, it has worked. This year, I had several returning fans come to find me and buy my latest book with promises to sign on for the New Sins series. And I’ve found a few new fans and caught up with some old pals who haunt this place (pun intended) each year.

Truth be told, I don’t sell a ton of books—but I do sell many. I also get my bookmarks and business cards out there. I talk to tons of people and even make a few fans along the way, have some laughs, and shake my head a lot as I snap photos of the cosplayers.

The road less travelled has brought me to a lot of strange places—Monster-Mania among the oddest.

There’s my old pal, Capt. Mango … the radon-inspection contractor who is really a pirate and small-
budget film star as a killer-maniac. There’s Mike and Jenna, a talented two-some—Mike creates hand-made artisan toys and horror memorabilia and Jenna is a gifted photographer of cult-style photos. Mic and Mike, Donna, Terri, and Steve ... and Matt. There’s the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Father Evil, the killers from A Clockwork Orange, Freddie Krueger, ax-wielding maniacs, and cute kids dressed as stalker clowns and dragons. And others like Anna, Maggie, Kellie, Chris & Mary Ann, Katherine from Kingston with Justin—a few new friends of the hundreds I’ve made here.

Monster-Mania may not be on my slate next year as I juggle my travels and try to find new venues to seek fans and fame. But the experience and folks I’ve met has made it one of the memorable places Tuck and I have explored these past three years. It will also be one of my first favorites and the first place Tuck found returning fans seeking his adventures.

For me, finding the places few authors have discovered is part of my own path. My favorite places are at those where I speak or am on a panel—if I can speak and take stage, I can sell them my books. Except here at Monster-Mania—to truly connect, I have to wear Goth-garb, paint my eyes black, wear zombie contact lenses and elevator–shoes, and carry an ax. Oh, and a few chains and scalps hanging from my belt wouldn’t hurt either.

We’ll talk again next month.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous series. 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 to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:


Monday, October 3, 2016

My Next New Release

by Linda O. Johnston

   My third Superstition Mystery, UNLUCKY CHARMS, will be released on October 8. 

   I'd have thought that eventually having another book published would start feeling old.  Not!  I've been writing mysteries and romances for a long time, and I'm nearly as excited as I was with book one.

   I know a lot of writers who are just getting published for the first time, and some who are going the self-publishing route.  Others, like me, are long-timers who are primarily traditionally published.  Why do any of us do this?

   Well, for me, it's because I have stories inside me that are hollering to get out.  I always wanted to write, even as a kid.  As I got older, went through law school, got law jobs... I started actually doing it: writing short stories first, then novels. 

   And the rest of you here who are Midnight Ink writers as well as readers?  I've talked with friends, and just as we all write something different--though a lot of us write mysteries or thrillers or whatever-- we all seem to have different reasons, though many are similar.

   Mostly, it's because we have to.  It's who we are.  It's what we want to do with our time and our lives, perhaps in addition to all the rest like day jobs and family and whatever.  But our writing is insisting that we get it down on the page, edit it, then send it out for the world to read. 

   Then we get our work critiqued, which can be hard when people don't like our offspring.  But does that stop us?  No!  And do we all get rich from our writing?  I wish!  But since writing is what we do, who we are, we keep at it. 

   And loving it.