Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pet Food Safety

I'm not just an author of pet cozies, I'm a pet owner, too! My family includes Eddie the Morkie, Mona Lisa the Mackerel Tabby cat, Cupcake the Maine Coon cat, and Zach the bearded dragon. So when I catch wind of a pet food recall, I take notice.

I've found a great website where every recall is listed. There are also reviews and a forum and all kinds of helpful information. DogFoodAdvisor 

Since I live in the US, I try to always buy food and treats made in the USA by FDA guidelines.

Do dog treats have to be FDA approved?
There is no requirement that pet food products have premarket approval by the FDA. However, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that pet foods, like human foods, be pure and wholesome, safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.Sep 20, 2016

Resources for You > Information on Marketing a Pet Food Product - FDA

The dog treat recipes in my cozies are tested in my kitchen, made with love, and Eddie Approved.

Until next time!
Jamie Blair

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

10 Ways I'm Organizing in the "New" Year: Late Adopter's Edition

By Lisa Alber

I don't know about you, but about this time of year, mid-February, I'm itchy for spring. In Portland, OR, crocus and other spring bulbs are sprouting and the black-capped chickadees have returned. It feels like almost-spring, so I count is as the true start to my New Year. Forget January. January is for people who aren't bothered by season affective disorder.

I've always been a late adopter, so it's no surprise that each year I adopt a late-nik attitude to organization for the new year. Here are some of the things I'm doing right now to get back into a groove after a worse winter season than usual, weather-wise -- and morale-wise, if I'm going to be honest about it.

1. Invited gal pals over for brunch, which forced me to do my spring cleaning early. No one needs to know that all winter long I watched a generation of spiders live through their life cycles in the various corners of my home. Amazing how a clean home picks up my spirits.

2. While under brunch deadline, I spent hours organizing every paper that had accumulated on every horizontal surface for the last, oh, three-four-five months. Much of this had to do with finishing up PATH INTO DARKNESS, for sure. But still, I'm a crazy paper lady. If you're like me, you'd find inspirations and ideas for stories, phone numbers you thought you lost, stray checks, and so much more.

3. Bought a ridiculous day planner that I suspect I'll rarely use, but that has inspired me to start writing down task lists again, not to mention goals for the year.

4. Invested in Post-It notes and deposited them in various places around the house with pens nearby. Then, I'll write random thoughts down randomly as they occur to me, rather than try to hold everything in my mind and inevitably forget stuff.

5. Assigned a section of wall as my Post-It place. Every few days I plan to gather up my Post-Its and stick them up on the wall. I might even decide to group them according to priority. And, I'll throw them away as I go along rather than let them accumulate so that my counters and table tops end up looking like hamster nests.

6. Speaking of throwing away--I threw away my mail pile. Except for bills and tax documents, that's right, I zapped it! Anything important will come back to haunt me later -- I'll deal with it then. :-)

7. For longer-term projects that require planning, before month's end I'll pull on my big-girl undies and sit down, just me and my thoughts. Have you noticed how hard it is to just sit and think? It's crazy out there, and it's crazy in my head. I'll use my handy-dandy day planner to work backwards from writing deadlines (for me, this is publication of PATH INTO DARKNESS in August).

8. Money stuff? Yeah, who doesn't have money stuff. Every year there are at least a few larger expenses I need to wrangle. I planned a tight budget to hopefully, if all goes well, save up as much money as possible before the expenditures. This year, I'll be going to Toronto for Bouchercon, and I'd like to hire painters to paint my house (interiors--I hate beige and all my walls are beige) -- I can't do it myself because I don't feel like dealing with it -- plus I've got vaulted ceilings. I've got a house savings bucket and a travel savings bucket, and I'm gonna fill them slowly but surely.

9. Ack, the yard... Screw it, I hired someone to do the major stuff. Problem solved. Sometimes throwing money at things is the best solution. Frees up my brain for other things.

10. As soon as I run out of something, *especially* things I don't have to buy often like Scotch tape and light bulbs, my new plan is to re-stock immediately. Light bulbs drive me nuts. I never seem to have any around, and I've let it go on too long. I'd say about a quarter of mine are burned out now. So before the end of the month I'm hitting Home Depot for a light bulb binge. (And I'll buy extras!)

So that's what my February "New" Year looks like.

How are you doing right now as we wish for winter's end? 

Lisa Alber is the author of the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." Her second in the County Clare mysteries, WHISPERS IN THE MIST came out in August from Midnight Ink Books. Looks for PATH INTO DARKNESS in August 2017. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Facebook | Twitter

Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Midwife-Entrepreneurs

Edith here, recuperating from knee replacement surgery. But also ecstatic to have Delivering the Truth nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery, and "The Mayor and the Midwife," my short story featuring midwife Rose Carroll, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

A friend found a used book she thought I'd enjoy, Catching Babies: The Professionalism of Childbirth 1870-1920 by Charlotte G. Borst, now a history professor in Birmingham, Alabama. (This copy is inscribed, "To Mother, with love, Charlotte," so now I'm imagining Mother, and Charlotte, and how the book came to be for sale in a used book store. Hmm, a new short story, perhaps.) The book appears to be Borst's doctoral dissertation and focuses on birth logs and other primary historical sources in four Wisconsin counties.
Perfect! Thanks, Rae Francoeur

So I've been leafing through it, gleaning useful research for my Quaker Midwife Mysteries. Chapter Four is titled, "Midwife Entrepreneurs in the City" and uses several urban Wisconsin midwives as case studies. Despite being an academic treatise, it reads easily and well. And I'm finding all kinds of interesting facts.

Mary Gerrard left a complete record of the births she attended. During the years my books take place, the end of the 1880s, she attended around 200 births a year. She was a full-time midwife despite having seven children at home. She had attended a three-month course at the Northwestern Academy of Midwifery in Chicago and earned a diploma in 1878. Borst discusses other urban midwives following similar careers. All were able to earn a decent living. This bodes well for my fictional Rose Carroll continuing her midwifery practice should she and beau David Dodge ever manage to tie the knot.

One point of Borst's I found interesting is that despite these women being successful in their chosen field, they didn't attempt to move beyond their neighborhoods and promote a professional identity for their occupation. The work of even these successful, educated entrepreneurs basically didn't differ much from that of the less-educated rural neighbor-midwives, and they didn't organize into a professional organization. 

Once the concept of the professional began to be more popular after the turn of the century, childbearing women started to seek out physicians to assist with their births. (Physicians certainly also sought to control the birthing environment, but that's a different book.)

Stay tuned for Called to Justice, book two in the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, which releases April 8! 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Using Reality

by Linda O. Johnston

  I very much appreciated my the post before mine here at InkSpot, since we've both had similar stuff going on in our lives.  And we're both using it in our ongoing writing.

  Like Tracy Weber, I lost a beloved dog last year.  Lexie, who was thirteen, left us in October.  Her "sister" Mystie, another Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, seemed to step up to take over as number one pup.  But for various reasons, including not wanting Mystie to be alone long periods of time as we took on travel plans, we looked for another Cavalier.  We brought Carina, Cari for short, home in January, when she was eleven weeks old.

  Now, I write a lot about dogs in both my Midnight Ink mysteries and in romances.  I love them, especially my own.  But I hadn't had a puppy around for nine years.  And Cari, as cute as she is, is quite rambunctious.  I've maintained some control over her, partly because she's small, but she still doesn't seem to understand that the humans around here are alpha over her.

  My mind has been whirling around how to use this in something I'm writing.  In more than one thing I'm writing.  Plus, since I've been researching dog training for a series I'm doing for a different publisher, I intend to take Cari to a special training school when she's old enough--and of course use what I learn in as many things I write as possible.   Hopefully, she'll learn enough to be considered a trained pup.  Or not.

  All this has made me think once more about how we all incorporate what we know, and what we love, in our writing.  Cozy mysteries generally all have themes as their background, so those of us who write them choose the things we enjoy as those themes: pets, yes, and also different kinds of hobbies or jobs or other things such as handcrafts or cooking or home improvement or books and bookstores and more.  Presumably readers who share those interests are among those who are most likely to pick up our books and read them.

  Plus, a lot of people have multiple interests in their lives, so writers can write more than one series incorporating vocations or avocations that they love.  I've taken on different aspects of pets, and even, in an early mystery series, included my then-career as a lawyer.

  As always, I keep plotting, and have some ideas for other works that would incorporate my interests.  Don't know if I'll follow through with any of them... but it's always fun to plot!

  And meantime, I'm looking forward to my next Midnight Ink mystery, BAD TO THE BONE, a Barkery & Biscuits Mystery, which will be published in May.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Puppies are Killer

By Tracy Weber

Life sometimes imitates fiction. I send my completed manuscripts to my publisher over a year before they hit the shelves. A Fatal Twist was out of my hands in mid-December of 2015. I decided to include two puppies (Mutt and Jeff) in the book, because … well, because I like puppies. And nothing is funnier than crazy puppy antics. At least if those puppies belong to somebody else.
My own dog, Tasha (who inspired Bella, the German shepherd in my Downward Dog Mystery Series) was eleven when I wrote A Fatal Twist. Tasha was an unbelievably easy puppy, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Calm, never destructive. She always wanted to be by my side. If I told her not to do something, once was enough. Don’t get me wrong: She had lots of behavior issues as an adult, and she was impossible to potty train. Other than that, she was a dream puppy.
So I had to reach deep into my imagination to create Mutt and Jeff, the two tiny labradoodle monsters introduced in A Fatal Twist. Mutt and Jeff love to chew—everything. They dig up Kate’s garden. They abhor confinement and make it their life’s work to escape. They adore other dogs, especially when they’re biting them in the face, and they play-attack shoes—while people are walking in them. When I finished the book, I wondered: Did I make the puppies too unbelievable?
In July of 2016, my lovely girl Tasha passed away. A few weeks later, I adopted a new best friend. She’s an all-black German shepherd puppy named Ana, and as I write this, she just turned five months old. Her name is short for Ananda, which means “unending joy.” When I chose her name, I failed to consider what unending joy might look like in the eyes of a puppy.
She loves to chew paper—$20 bills and unfinished manuscripts are her favorites. She digs holes in my yard faster than my husband can fix them. She refuses to be confined. Thus far she’s learned how to wiggle out of three styles of harnesses and jump four-foot fences. Yesterday, she decided to start opening doorknobs. She likes to play “bitey-face” with all other canines, whether they enjoy the game or not. She attacks my pant legs when I walk. I’ve had to replace half of my wardrobe.
See any parallels?
My Facebook friends tell me to train her. Believe me, I’m trying. Her trainers (two primary and an additional three at puppy camp) look at me, shake their heads, and smile. “Ana is very independent,” they say. “Ana is a challenge. When she wants to do something, she figures out how to do it.” Then they add. “Ana is fearless.” Her breeder told me the week before I got her, “Ana is adventuresome,” and “Ana is brilliant.”
Ana can also be a pain in the patootie.
She is going to be a fabulous adult, not at all plagued by the fears that haunted Tasha. She’s smart, confident, loving, athletic, empathetic, and stubborn.

I adore her.
But I have to admit that as I re-read the scenes describing Mutt and Jeff’s chaos, I wonder if I was somehow channeling my future. Did I subconsciously know that my next puppy would be one that “shouldn’t go to an inexperienced owner?” Tasha taught be how to love, help, and learn from a flawed, fearful, health-compromised being. Maybe Ana is here to teach me the opposite: how to embrace, love, and learn from an independent soul who thwarts me at every turn.
My gut tells me yes.
My readers often ask if Ana will show up in my future books. I answer yes, and with great confidence.
She already has.

Tracy Weber

All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!


Monday, January 16, 2017

Casting Light

Yesterday I had brunch with a group of friends, several of whom were writers. All of us are working on mysteries or thrillers at the moment. One of them mentioned that she was struggling with the whole idea of writing about murder. She felt that by writing a murder mystery, she was somehow aggrandizing the idea of killing.

Unsurprisingly, the other authors disagreed. We talked about how all fiction has to do with examining both human nature and the human condition and that murder mysteries make us dig down and look at what might motivate the most craven acts of violence and the most brave acts of searching for the truth. We talked about how mysteries almost always seek to right the wrong of violence, to restore the balance of the world, to maintain justice.

I'm still thinking about this today on Martin Luther King Day. His beautiful quote about only light being able to chase out the darkness touches me every time I hear it. I do think it is what all authors try to do. We try to shine a little light into the world. Whether we write to entertain or to edify, we are always trying to shine a light on who we are, how we are the same and how we are different.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sneak peak at JUSTICE

Edith Maxwell here. Sometimes with publisher schedules, the time between when we submit a manuscript and the publication date seems impossibly long. And then suddenly it's upon us! 

The wait for Called to Justice has been like that, but now the April 8 release date is rushing ever closer. I'm busy arranging guest blog posts, nailing down a date for a launch party, and requesting early reviews. A well-known historical fiction author said this about the second Quaker Midwife Mystery: 

"Edith Maxwell has given readers a wonderful gift with Called to Justice. It's a riveting historical mystery featuring a refreshingly different kind of heroine, a Quaker midwife who also solves crimes with wit, intelligence, and gentle grace. It's a page turner. It's a fascinating look at nineteenth-century American faith, culture, and small-town life. And best of all, it's the second of what is sure to be a long and beloved series." -- William Martin, New York Times bestselling Author of Cape Cod and The Lincoln Letter

And of course the book is available for preorder wherever books are sold. So I thought I'd give you a taste of the very first page:

The day had seemed an unlikely one to include death.

On a sunny, hot Independence Day, citizens from miles around had flocked in carriages, by trolley, even on bicycle to the streets of Amesbury, Massachusetts to celebrate our country’s one-hundred-and-twelfth birthday. Colorful buntings hung from buildings, including John W. Higgins, Boots and Shoes across from where I stood. I strained to keep my place at the edge of Main Street that morning while others jostled for an advantageous spot from which to watch the parade.

I’d walked down from the modest home where I lodged with my late sister’s husband and his five children. My beau, David Dodge, was taking me to watch the fireworks tonight, but he needed to make rounds at the hospital today so I was on my own for the morning.

I was laughing along with the crowd at one of the horribles, a policeman dressed as a British bobby pulling an outhouse on a cart labeled “Amesbury Lockup,” when someone tugged at my sleeve.

“Rose,” she whispered.

“Hannah,” I said to the young woman at my side. Hannah Breed was a Quaker like me and one of my niece Faith’s fellow employees at the Hamilton Mill. The smile slid off my face when I focused on her pale visage and drawn, frightened eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Faith has said thee is a midwife.”

“I am.” I touched her shoulder. “Thee is troubled.”

“I need to talk with thee.”

I took Hannah’s hand and pushed through the crowd behind us until we gained the relative quiet of Currier Street. I stood facing Hannah in the welcome shade of one of the Salisbury Manufacturing Company’s buildings.

“Please tell me what ails thee,” I said, although I suspected the cause. She attended Amesbury Friends Meeting, as did I, and I’d detected a change in her the last couple of months.

Hannah gazed at the embroidered handkerchief she twisted in her hands. As she glanced up at me, a roar erupted from the crowd we’d left behind.

“I’m in trouble, Rose. I don’t know where to turn, what to do.”

I clasped my hands and waited without speaking. As a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I was accustomed to silence.

“I have not been well. I’m sick often throughout the day. I thought it was a touch of illness.” She paused, lifting her chin. “But then I missed my monthly.”

Readers, what do you think? I hope you're as excited as I am. So tell me, do you like to read a teaser snippet from a book before you decide to buy it? Do gorgeous covers convince you? Do tell!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

It's Time for My New Sins ...

by Tj O'Connor

Temporary Cover Art
My sins are surfacing. They’re on the horizon, inching ever closer, and it’s time I dealt with them head-on. Like many a wild and crazy-guy, my sins come with scores to settle, too. There’s nothing better than a good battle of new sins and old scores. Nothing.

For the past two years or so, I’ve blogged about my characters, plots, and process surrounding my previous series, The Gumshore Ghost (a dreaded series name). Oliver Tucker and his pals hunted murderers, thieves, and gangsters. Tuck was a dead detective helping solve first his own, and then other murders along the way. Each of those stories had a historical subplot and a paranormal twist. And so does New Sins for Old Scores.

The difference in the story lines are unique—Tuck was written in the first person, and New Sins in the third. Tuck’s stories were very light-hearted mysteries whereas New Sins takes a little more serious storyline, still with good humor, but it’s closer to a traditional mystery. Lastly, and perhaps more noteable at least to me, it takes on a serious subplot—human trafficking—and overlays a historical real-life event to connect the past with the present. I truly believe history repeats itself. I also believe we are slow to learn its lessons.

New Sins for Old Scores makes us wonder if we’ve learned life’s most important lessons about the past, trust, and honor.

 In February 2016,  I had a brief discussion about my new novel. I’ll try not to rehash it here. It suffices to say that these new stories will also have murder with a paranormal twist, but in this case, the paranormal side will be the secondary character—Trick McCall, the spirit of a long dead, disgraced WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative. Trick is the sidekick in these stories, not the primary hero as in Oliver Tucker’s Ghost Gumshoe series. And this series is a little more traditional—albeit with the paranormal twist—and not quite as light-hearted as Tuck’s stories, either—though Trick does tend to have a little fun at the expense of the bad guys.

 The novel is based on some real events—or more accurately, real historical events—which I took license with and molded into a modern murder mystery. The story follows a disgraced detective, Richard Jax, who must prove his own innocence in a multiple homicide and stop an international plot of human traffickers and murders.

The story begins …

Murder, like history, often repeats itself.

When it does, that kind of murder isn’t the byproduct of some psychotic break or an unintended emotional frenzy. That kind of murder is conscious and considered. It is deliberate.

History is full of that kind of murder.

Richard Jax was never a good student of history—but he knew murder well. He was more pragmatic than philosophical, and except for watching the History Channel and old movies, the past occupied little of his time. His time was reserved for murder and violence. Yet, history taught him a very important lesson—an axiom of parents with teenagers—that nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Jax wasn’t married and had no children. But it was after midnight and he was alone.

Later on, Richard Jax is ambushed while on a stakeout and lay bleeding out, alone and without backup. As his assailant approaches him for the final kill shot, he meets Trick McCall …

A voice exploded in his head. “Get up. Fight back. It’s not over. It can’t be—fight.”

Jax looked across the driveway. Someone lay on the gravel a dozen feet away. The figure stared wide-eyed back at him. Then, in strange, freeze-frame movements, the man stood. He looked around and brushed himself off. He gave Jax a nod and then picked something up off the ground and placed it on his head.

“Come on, Mac, fight. Don’t quit. You can’t.”

Jax tried to focus but knew he was already done.

“Come on, Ricky. You have to do this yourself. Until you do, I can’t help.”

Jax watched the man across the parking lot as the warmth pooled beneath his cheek. His vision blurred and he wasn’t sure what he saw was right—a cone of light engulfed the man—just him. Everything around the light was black and murky. The man was tall and lanky. He wore a hat—a fedora—and a dark, double-breasted suit. Behind him was a 1940s Plymouth with wide, squared fenders, and a dark green, four-door body.

Was he dead and heaven playing a film noir festival for his arrival?

“Shoot ‘em, Ricky. Shoot or he’ll kill you.”

Jax looked up at the silhouette standing over him. The warmth that flowed from him minutes ago now left him cold and spent.

The silhouette raised his gun for the final shot.

“No,” Jax grunted. “No…”

A deafening crack and a flash of light.


“Miles Archer, Ricky,” the fedora-man said leaning over him. “Bogart’s partner was Miles Archer, ya know, in The Maltese Falcon. I saw it open at the Capitol Theatre in D.C. in ’42. You did good, Ricky—real good.”


Jax and Trick McCall have two things in common. They are both disgraced—Trick believed to be a murderous traitor who killed his own men for profit, and Jax a crooked cop who killed his partner and fiancĂ© from jealousy. Together they have to set the records straight —even if those records began in 1942.

As with my previous novels, I intertwine history and the present, proving the opening line, Murder, like history, often repeats itself.  The paranormal twist allows me to move between past and present and explore the events that led to Trick’s death and his disgrace. It also allows me to link events from the ‘40s with modern day skullduggery. The outcome brings out all the character’s New Sins and helps them settle Old Scores.

I’m anxious to get on the road to talk about this story. It was fun writing and I think it’ll be fun talking about the plot and characters to fans. But mostly, I love just talking books with readers. This one opens up a new chapter in my own writing, another potential series that mixes my favorite topics—murder and history. In these stories, I get to play with my own sins and conjure up some old scores to settle, too.

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 New Sins for Old Scores, coming in March 2017 from Black Opal Books, and Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell. He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous works. 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: