Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dying for New Sins for Old Scores

There are few things more satisfying as an author than completing a book. Typing “The End” is both a thrill and a moment of, well, sadness. You’ve exhausted yourself on your hero’s latest caper, spent sleepless nights second-guessing your plot, and worn yourself out with hours and hours of edits, proofs, discussions, and all manner of craziness trying to get it just right. Then, “The End” hits the the last page and you sit back, contemplate the story, and wonder what you’ll do with your characters next. And for me, there’s that moment of panic—I’ve got a dozen outlines in my folder for new books, five or six with my current series and characters, and not enough hours in my life to write them all. ARGGGGGG! What to do? (Oh, God, what to do???)

Then, the dark clouds part. The light shines. The music plays. I know just what to do. It’s simple, really. Very, very, simple.

I start a new blank page, copy and paste the template of my title page, set up the footers and headers, and start with CHAPTER ONE of a new novel … and I’m off. Another adventure awaits. Someone has to die. A hero has to catch a killer or track down a spy. There is no choice. No one can stop it. Murder and chaos must reign once again.

Oh, wait. I better close my last book and save it into the back-up before I start this one. Oops.

For those of you wondering, there are three more Tuck mysteries planned and I’m going to start one of those this coming summer. For now, I’m finishing up my ninth novel, a thriller about domestic terrorism, and I’m reviewing New Sins for Old Scores, the first of a murder mystery series I wrote a couple years ago (my agent is shopping this around as we speak).

New Sins was originally completed about three years ago after my agent, the amazing Kimberley Cameron, signed me for Dying to Know. She wanted a second series with a historical subplot and a paranormal storyline.  It took me four months to craft New Sins for Old Scores, the story of Richard Jax, a Virginia BCI detective saved by the spirit of a disgraced OSS operative, Trick McCall, who was killed in 1944 on the very spot Jax was ambushed. My website summarizes New Sins the best:

Murder, like history, often repeats itself. And when it does, it's the worst kind of murder.

Detective Richard Jax was never good at history. But after years as a cop, he was about to get the history lesson of his life.

After Jax is gunned down and lay dying at an old inn while on a case, he's saved by Captain Patrick "Trick" McCall—the ghost of a World War II OSS agent—who’s been waiting since 1944 for the chance to solve his own murder. Soon, Jax is a suspect in a string of murders—murders linked to smuggling refugees out of the Middle East—a plot similar to the World War II OSS operation “Operation Paper Clip” that brought scientists out of war-torn Europe. With the aid of a beautiful and brilliant historian, Dr. Alex Vouros, Jax and Trick unravel a seventy year-old plot that began with Trick's murder in 1944. Could the World War II mastermind (code named Harriet) be alive and up to new sins and old scores? Is history repeating itself?
Together, Jax and Trick McCall hunt for the link between their pasts that will lead them to Washington's elite and to one provocative, alluring French Underground agent, Abrielle Chanoux. Somewhere in Trick's memories is a traitor. That traitor killed him. That traitor is killing again.

Who framed Richard Jax and who wants Trick's secret to remain secret? The answer may be, who doesn't?

As I began re-reading New Sins looking for opportunities to refine and improve it, it struck me that my evil mind had recreated the foundation of Tuck Tucker’s Gumshoe Ghost series—a traditional murder mystery surrounding a historical subplot that culminates into a grand, surprising ending. Oh, but in Tuck’s stories, he’s a dead detective telling the story in the first-person, er, first-spirit, and in New Sins, the story is delivered in third-person and shares both Richard Jax’s and Trick McCall’s point of view throughout the story. Similarly, there are scenes with a historic subplot that follow Trick’s 1944 OSS operation that lead to his death and disgrace. Those chapters form the connection between past and present and lay the foundation for several characters involved in the modern murder plot for which Jax is the prime suspect. In the end, it’s the settling of the past’s old scores that sets the stage for present-day new sins.

I’m looking forward to digging back into New Sins for Old Scores and updating the storyline. I began reading it late one evening last week and found that I still love this story and characters. I’m looking forward to finding a home for it on bookshelves.

Strangely, while I’ve written eight novels and four of them are mysteries with a paranormal twist, I never set out to be a mystery writer. With my life and background in anti-terrorism and security consulting, I see myself as more of a thriller writer. I’m finishing a new thriller now and penned three before Dying to Know, the book that was accidentally written for my daughter, and that also became my first published work. Just yesterday at a book signing for my latest release, Dying to Tell, I responded to a question about my work saying, “No, I’m really a thriller writer …” then I felt silly and added, “Except I’ve written four of these mysteries all with a paranormal subplot. So, I guess I am a mystery writer. Yeah, that’s me, a mystery writer.” Nothing proves that more than my return to New Sins for Old Scores in the middle of working on my thriller. And while New Sins has both the mystery and thriller touch and feel, it’s certainly more mystery.

How twisted is my mind when I’m working a thriller and a mystery at the same time? Don’t answer that. I already have my own diagnosis.

So as winter progresses into spring, I hope time does not get in the way of finishing both new projects in a  timely manner. I’m anxious to get them out into the light of readers and fans. New Sins is chomping at the bit for an audience.

As you can see, I have more projects than time. If only I hit the lotto or found the lost Templar treasure I could write full time and make my life complete. But alas, I don’t play the lotto and have no clue where the treasure might be. (I know for certain it isn’t under my back deck.) So for the forseeable future, I’ll be consulting by day and writing novels by night.

Hopefully, New Sins for Old Scores will be out there for you to read this year or next. In the interim, I’ll finish my thriller and launch into one of the other dozen novels I’ve planned.

What choice do I have?

We’ll again chat next month …

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE 2015 GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. 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 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 Labrador companions in Virginia where they’ve 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, February 1, 2016

Why Dogs?

Hi, InkSpot fans,

My Inkspot blogs appear on the first Monday of each month.  How fun that the first Monday of this month is also the first day of the month!

I was motivated by Tracy Weber's recent InkSpot blog about her lifetime love of animals and how they inspired her writing to consider my own love of animals, especially dogs.  Yes, I know they inspire my writing.  Of the four mystery series I write or have written, every one of them features dogs. 

In my first mystery series, the Kendra Ballantyne Pet-Sitter Mysteries that I wrote for Berkley Prime Crime, Kendra was a lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Lexie.  At the time, I was a practicing lawyer, and I still live in the Hollywood Hills with my two Cavaliers, including Lexie.  I haven't tripped over murder victims, though--except in my mind.

My second series, the Pet Rescue Mysteries, were a spin-off from the Kendra books.  And now I'm writing two series simultaneously for Midnight Ink which both feature dogs: the Superstition Mysteries, where the protagonist runs a pet boutique, and the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, where the protagonist is a veterinary technician who bought a human bakery and turned half into a barkery where she sells healthy dog treats.

In addition, one of the other two series I write, romances for Harlequin, consists of paranormal romances for Nocturne, featuring Alpha Force, a covert military unit of shapeshifters.  Yes, many are werewolves and they happen to have cover dogs while they're in human form.

So why dogs?  I'm not sure why I started loving them, but I do know I convinced my grandfather to buy me my first puppy from a pet store when I was eight years old.  I learned a horrible lesson then about pet stores.  My mother took Cuddles to a vet when I was in school the next day, and she had distemper.  We returned her to the store and learned that all the dogs there had distemper.  In those days we couldn't even bring a dog into the house for a three-month quarantine period after that, and I used the time to research breeds.  My next puppy was a Boston Terrier from a qualified breeder, and I had Frisky for quite a while.

And then, years later, on my first trip to London I saw my first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on the Underground.  The rest was my history.  I hunted for a Cavalier puppy when I returned to the States and have been owned by them ever since.

Dogs have inspired other aspects of my life, too, and I absolutely love writing about them.  In fact, I'm always dreaming up new story ideas but don't have time to follow up on all of them.  Someday, maybe...  But meantime, I love writing my current mysteries and hope to for a long time.

I actually could tell you more about my love of animals and how they inspired me--and that can be a topic for another blog!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mystery and Mayhem—Animal Style!

I have adored animals for as long as I can remember.  From my first German shepherd, a lovely animal named Duchess, to my Holstein cow Beauty, to my first kitty, Smokey. Then there was my childhood horse, Becky, and the other assorted, dogs, cats, turtles, fish, parakeets, gerbils, canaries—even a pigeon named Lollipop—that followed.  Each has commanded a special place in my heart.

My favorite childhood cow, Beauty.
When I was a child, cats followed me wherever I went like children chasing after the Pied Piper. I nursed injured butterflies back to health. One day, I tearfully convinced my fourth grade teacher to let me release the winged grasshoppers she’d accumulated for the science class’s dissection.  I’m pretty sure the grasshoppers were happier about my success than the school’s groundskeeper.
Hanging out with a herd of cats on "Cat Island"
Not much has changed since then. When I see a drowning earthworm, I relocate it. I move caterpillars off walking trails so they don’t get smashed. I save snails and slugs.  (Don’t tell my neighbors!) If it weren’t for my husband, I’d surely be locked away in whatever prison they use to hold well-meaning hoarders. 
So it’s not surprising that animals play prominent roles in my mysteries. How could they not?  After all, I write what I love, and I love nothing more than animals.  The mystery in Karma’s a Killer gave me the perfect opportunity to weave in some unusual animal characters.  The story revolves around an animal rescue group, a wildlife rehabilitator, and a group of animal activists who clash with deadly results.

Animal rescue and animal activism collide in Karma's a Killer

As always, my writing is fiction, but it’s strongly informed by my life. Many of the animals in Karma’s a Killer are based on real-life creatures.  Bella, the German shepherd, is in many ways a carbon copy of my own special needs German shepherd, Tasha. Blackie—a rehabilitated crow who plays a prominent role in the story—is modeled after a wild crow that has befriended her. Their relationship has touched me and changed my opinion of crows forever.

Tasha and a murder of her crow friends at Green Lake--one of the pivotal locations in Karma's a Killer.
Mister Feathers, the pigeon that decorates the entrance to Kates yoga studio, is similar to a pigeon that roosted above my own yoga studio, Whole Life Yoga, a few years ago. I saved him from a hawk attack, and the experience changed me in a profound way.  If you're interested, here's a blog I wrote about that day.
Raising goats is still a pipe dream, but I’m chiseling away at my husband’s resolve a little more every day.  If I have my way, pigs and a few chicken-girls will soon join the menagerie.  ;-)
Someday I'll have some chicken-girls!
How about you?  What animals are important in your life?  Tell me about your favorite furred, feathered, scaled, and exoskeletoned creatures in the comments.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll end up in my next mystery!

Tracy Weber

books available

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

5 Sure Signs That I Can Let Go of My Manuscript (Finally!)

By Lisa Alber

Over the weekend, I read a printed copy of my manuscript for WHISPERS IN THE MIST (August 2016). I read it fast, looking out for loose ends and moot remnants still hanging around from previous versions.

At this point in the writing process, I always know that I'll feel compelled to read the manuscript just one more time before hand off, and I know I'll still find things that need fixing, and I know I'll worry about whether the newest changes have themselves caused inconsistencies (or typos!) that will require me to re-read the manuscript AGAIN ... 

It could go on forever, but there comes a point when I have to let my baby go. Given that I can always continue improving my stories, when do I feel that "yes" feeling about letting a manuscript go?

1. The latest manuscript read-through was mostly clean. Changes were only for clarity, consistency, and pruning. Nit-piks.

2. I have no more questions to myself about nitty-gritty plot points. (My stories are kind of complex.) Yes, all the bits and pieces are there.

3. I've considered every piece of beta reader feedback. I've incorporated what my gut says "yay" about, and I've ignored what my gut says "nay" about.

4. I've gone through a copyedit (as best as I can since I'm not a copyeditor) on my own. I catch a lot of weird prose quirks when I focus on the line-by-line. We all have our easy-way-outs when we're writing. For example, I love m-dashes, but they can be used in place of properly crafted sentences.

This is also when I deal with rhetorical questions, such as this example from a previous draft of WHISPERS:   

Danny still couldn’t fathom why Malcolm had offered up the alibi unless it was to humiliate Danny. But why? Because he was pissed that Danny hadn’t prioritized the graffiti vandalism? Because he didn’t like Danny prying into McIlvoy’s life?

This is just lazy writing. Really. At least for me. A bunch of rhetorical questions in a row tell me I need to go deeper and get to the heart of the matter in a more precise fashion. This might mean adding word count, but that's OK. So now it's this:

Danny still couldn’t fathom why Malcolm had offered up the alibi unless it was to humiliate Danny. He hadn’t prioritized finding the phantom graffiti artist, true, but surely Malcolm understood that vandalism didn’t rate as high as murder.

No, the alibi had to be a good-old-fashioned diversionary tactic. Most likely to distract Danny from prying into Malcolm’s relationship with McIlvoy.
5. Last but not least, I've word-searched words I know to be problematic, such as the "just"s and "really"s. Excess adverbs. The verb "was," which could indicate a yucky passive voice sentence or a sentence that needs rewriting with a stronger verb. I have a word list that I keep handy for this tedious, final task.

It's not that I get rid of every "just," "really," and "was" -- but I do consider them carefully. It's so easy to fall back on them -- another easy way out. (Oh, look at that, falling back on m-dashes again!)

Also, during all of this, I'll have noticed other words -- not the usual "blah" words -- that I fell in love with for some reason. For example, while writing WHISPERS, I used "flicker" a lot. Everything was flickering, from candle and sconce light, to gazes, to birds in flight. It was a positive flicker-fest, enough to cause a migraine!

All of this may be tedious, it may add to my writing time, but in end, I love the satisfaction of knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I've done all that I can do.

There's no such thing as perfection; there's only doing the best we can.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On Birth Days

Edith here. My 1888 midwife Rose Carroll attends births in her clients' homes as her profession. When I was having babies several decades ago, I also enlisted home birth midwives. In fact, today is my younger son's birthday.

Baby Allan, one week old
Despite working with a well-known independent midwife (with physician backup) for my older son's birth, his positioning and large head led us to need a C-section after forty-eight hours of labor. These are the cases where, unlike in 1888, we are glad for antiseptic procedure and skilled surgeons. My nine-pound twelve-ounce son (with his sixteen-inch head) was fine. The hospital nurses said they'd never seen such a big head on a newborn. I ended up fine, too, and we nursed as a couple until I became pregnant with Allan's younger brother two years later.

I had done my homework and I knew second births are usually faster and easier than firsts. We again signed up with an independent midwife for a home birth, also known as VBAC: vaginal birth after Cesarean.

Edith and midwife Miriam Khalsa
To my dismay I experienced two days of vigorous labor just like the first time. I walked the halls. I labored on hands and knees and in a tub.
I squatted. My baby was lodged in a transverse (face up) position and nothing was bringing that little guy out, so we were forced to endure another surgery. Imagine my surprise when they said this nine-pound eight-ounce boy's head measured sixteen and a half inches!
Baby John David, a few days old

From my studies, I believe if Rose Carroll had encountered births like these, she would have waited longer, but if the baby showed signs of serious distress, she could have transferred the mother to the new hospital across the river in Newburyport. C-sections were being done by then, and the importance of keeping incisions clean to avoid infections was known.

John David and Allan, with Anna, my goddaughter and their friend for life (who was born at home with a midwife)
Perhaps the third Quaker Midwife Mystery will include an emergency C-section. Meanwhile, my second baby also thrived and is now a smart, generous, hardworking, thoughtful, handsome, and fun twenty-seven year old. Happy birthday, John David!

Readers: want to share your birth story - your own, your child's, or one you witnessed? Any experience with home birth, or are you squarely in the hospital camp?

Delivering the Truth, Edith Maxwell's first Quaker Midwife Mystery, releases April 8 from Midnight Ink. She writes several other mystery series as well as award-winning short stories, and blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dying to Tell ... Charge!

Launch! Friday, January 8th, Dying to Tell launches into the bookstores. Tuck is on his third murder case with a paranormal twist—it’s the dead of winter in Winchester while reclusive dead bankers, suave executives, sneaky accountants, exotic archaeologists, and the ghosts of World War II Cairo—figuratively and in truth—run amuck. The bodies are piling up.
Nothing out of the norm for Oliver “Tuck” Tucker—dead detective extraordinaire.
But anyone following Tuck’s cases already knows. Those who don’t are about to. Perhaps what you don’t know is what goes into the next twelve months as I try to acquaint new readers and meet fans on my quest to build an audience. Oh, the miles, the podiums, the conventions and book stores, the hotel rooms, the … oh, hell, I love it all!
In the world of writing, I have found that the easy part is just that, writing. Oh, it’s a long, lonely process that you either love or hate but a few just “like.” It’s more work than anyone who hasn’t done it could even imagine. It’s writing, editing, rewriting—deleting your favorite chapter or supporting character because you must. It’s stealing time from family and friends and your dogs (sorry, Toby, I have no choice). And, as I’ve told writing groups and in guest appearances, the most rewarding part is when you get to “The End.” I truly believe that most people who set out to write a novel never get that far. And that is a shame. You don’t know what you’re missing—like, the real work. The real work isn’t writing the book, it’s everything thereafter. The work is editing, rewriting, editing, editing, editing. It’s finding an agent (if that is the direction you take), and it’s working with a publisher, then more editing and editing and editing. Then, it’s blogging and marketing and marketing and marketing.
Are you seeing the picture here? Being a writer is just that. You write. Being an author is being a writer with the added bliss of publishing, more editing, and marketing and seeking an audience. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Each of us—authors that is—have our own ways of doing this. Writing is not a team sport—until you get an agent and a publisher. Each of us seeks an audience in different ways, often using the same tools and ideas, but perhaps in different ways. Let me show you what I have planned for 2016 to try to continue to build an audience for Tuck and his pals.
Now-End of Year: 2016 Blog-A-Thon. Every month, I write two blogs—or at least post two blogs. One is here for Inkspot with my pals from Midnight Ink. The other is through my website at Blogging is a requirement of this life, something I’m not too fond of. I work a billion hours a week for my real job—the one that pays the bills at least—and all my free time is writing. To then sit and bang out two blogs every month is time I truly don’t have. And frankly, I am one who doesn’t think readers really care much about what I have to say—other than in my books. So I always feel like, “Who cares what I think?” Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps not. 
Coming Soon: Bitten By Books: The great book review site I’ll be doing a book launch event, giveaways, and blogging. Date to follow!
January 23: Winchester Book Gallery, Winchester, VA: Next, I’ll be at my favorite indie book store! Winchester Book Gallery at 2 pm until 4 pm. Christine—who sponsors me at many of my events—and I are hoping we don’t get snowed out again like last year. There will be my daughter Jean’s famous crime scene cupcakes and books and some giveaways. Come one, come all. Bring a friend. Bring ten friends. Bring money …
February 12-14: Farpoint convention for all types of “imaginative fiction” like imaginative fiction – Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, SuperHeroes. The convention is at North Baltimore, Maryland. There will be some celebrities there (yes, I’ll be there but don’t qualify as a celebrity) including Hugo and Nebula Award winning author, Davide Gerrold, and Firefly and Arrow actor Sean Maher. I’ll be signing books and begging, excuse me, seeking new fans! 
February 26: Marlton Middle School and High School, Marlton, New Jersey. What a day and night planned! I’ve got the entire day talking to middle and high schoolers including a “lunch and learn” session, some class sessions, a wonderful “Tea with Tj” (wow, they named a tea after me!) and a signing. Then, the amazing folks have set me up to go to … 
Barns & Nobel, Marlton, New Jersey! It’s on to the local bookstore from 6 pm to 8 pm for a book signing and to meet new fans and talk books. 

March 10: I’ll be at the Army Navy Club, Arlington, Virginia doing a talk on writing and books. This will be a fun event talking to club members and guests followed by a signing.
April 29: Malice Domestic Writers Conference, Bethesda Maryland: My favorite writers convention. Panels, book signings, meeting fans, and most of all, spending time with all my author and publishing pals! Cannot wait!
May 21: Millbrook Book Festival, Millbrook, NY: My favorite out-of-state book festival by far. Fans, panels, author pals galore!
August 13: Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival, Suffolk, VA: My FAV Virginia book event by far!!!!! Panels and fans and of course, hanging with all my author pals again.  

Wait … are these events just to party with fellow writers? Pretty much, yep …

That’s my first half of the year … more to follow and fill in later,

So, mystery fans and fellow writers and authors, how’s your year looking? The events above are just the start—I haven’t even begun sorting out other requests I’ve received for guest speaking and book events. Last year, I spent nearly every other weekend on the road except for two months of the year. My goal is to do that again. I met some amazing folks and sold a bunch of books. Some of my newest, dearest friends were made on my travels. I’m hoping to see them all this year.

As for the rest of my travels, stay tuned. I’ll be posting about those events and telling a few stories of my adventures. At least, those that are able to be put into print.

We’ll chat again next month …

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. 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 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, January 4, 2016

My First Post of the Year

--by Linda O. Johnston

Hi, InkSpot fans,

Last month I wrote my last post of 2015.  And now--it's January.  This is my post for the first Monday of the month, in the first month of  2016.

I'm planning a fun, busy and productive 2016.  As I mentioned last month, my second Barkery & Biscuits Mystery, TO CATCH A TREAT, will be a May 2016 release, and my third Superstition Mystery, UNLUCKY CHARMS, is scheduled for October 2016.

And on the last day of 2015, I received some wonderful news.  My first Barkery Mystery, BITE THE BISCUIT, is a finalist for the Maxwell Award in the fiction category of the Dog Writers Association of America's annual writing competition!  I've got some stiff and excellent competition, including Midnight Ink's Sheila Boneham, but I'm thrilled just to receive the nomination, whether or not I win. 

So... Happy New Year!  May you each have a wonderful 2016, filled with happy surprises, lots of fun mysteries that you read and/or write, and everything else that you hope for.

Monday, December 28, 2015

I Present to You....KARMA'S A KILLER!

January 8 is the official launch day for my third Downward Dog Mystery, Karma's a Killer, but I can't wait until then to share the book with you.  So now, for your reading pleasure, I present to you--the first chapter of Karma's a Killer!

“I can’t believe I let Michael talk me into this. The man is obviously nuts.”
I reached out my arms and slowly turned a complete circle, trying to fully take in the deafening chaos around me.
Under different circumstances, I probably would have been the one referred to as crazy. I was, after all, muttering to myself while spinning like a slow-motion top. But today, nobody seemed to notice. The soccer fields of Seattle’s Green Lake Park undulated with a buzzing, beehive-like swarm of people.
And their dogs.
Lots and lots of dogs.
All blocking the path to my destination.
A golden retriever pulled toward me from the front, practically dislocating the shoulder of an acne-scarred teenager. Behind me, a yapping Chihuahua flashed piranha-like teeth at the backs of my ankles. To my right, a geriatric woman tried, unsuccessfully, to restrain an adolescent bull mastiff that was seemingly intent on saying hello to, well, to everyone.
And that was just the start.
Each time a potential path opened, it was quickly obscured by a new member of the dense canine stew. I almost squeezed between two roughhousing pit bulls, but I got distracted by a huge Rottweiler head attached to six-inch-long wiener dog legs. A Rott-wiener? Was that even physically possible?
By the time I shook off the image, the momentary opening had disappeared.
The closely packed crowd shouldn’t have surprised me. Over two thousand people had registered for Paws Around Green Lake, today’s 5K dog “fun” walk. Twice as many as my boyfriend, Michael, had anticipated when he agreed to organize the fundraising event. I should have been happy for Michael, and I was. I was even happier for DogMa, the no-kill animal shelter that would receive the day’s proceeds. Or I would have been, if those same two thousand bodies hadn’t stood between me and my destination.
If only I’d brought my 100-pound German shepherd, Bella, with me. My treat-motivated tracker-dog would have bee-lined it straight for the food vendors, parting the crowd with me flying like a kite behind her. But Bella still didn’t like other dogs, or most bearded men, for that matter. I could never insert her into this canine carnival—not without risking a multiple-dog homicide—and it was too warm on this uncharacteristically sunny spring day to leave her in the car, even if I parked in the shade.
So here I was, on my own.
I took a step back and assessed the event’s layout, trying to simultaneously decipher an entrance and plot my escape. The normally empty field had been marked off in sectors. The northernmost end held a multicolored assortment of receptacles marked garbage, recycle, pet waste, and compost. Where the trash cans left off, a golden line of stacked straw bales began, outlining the fenced area allocated to Dale’s goat petting farm.
To the south stood a stage, a registration desk, several food vendors, and the roped-off area I would later use as makeshift yoga studio. The rest of the perimeter was lined with about two dozen tent-covered booths. My goal, should I choose to accept it, was to find the one assigned to my yoga studio, Serenity Yoga.
Okay, Kate. You can do this.
I plugged my ears to block out the din, lifted my heels, and stood on my toes in a tennis-shoed Tadasana, trying to see over the masses.
Maybe if I jag to the right, dive under that banner and—
The Chihuahua sank his teeth into my pant leg and yanked. I flailed my arms and tried—unsuccessfully—to stay balanced. My left foot got tangled in the fur-covered piranha’s leash; my right hand connected solidly with his owner’s coffee cup. The lid flew across the field. Hot, dark brown liquid spilled down my shirt.
“Hey!” she snapped. “What are you, drunk?”
I opened my mouth to apologize, but the supermodel-thin woman didn’t give me a chance. She snatched her dog off my pant leg, ignored the hot liquid soaking my chest, and pierced me with an ice pick-sharp glare.
“Watch where you’re going, you big oaf. You could have hurt Precious.”
My ears zipped right past the word “oaf” and landed solidly on “big.” Who was she calling big? I’d lost almost twenty pounds in the six months since my misadventures on Orcas. Even I had to admit that my five-foot-three-inch body had finally landed on the thin side of normal.
But that didn’t stop me from feeling insulted.
My body reacted much faster than my mind could control it. Anger-laced adrenaline zapped down my spine. My fingers curled into tight fists. My teeth clenched together so hard I was afraid I might shatter a molar.
Every fiber of my being wanted to lash back, which wasn’t surprising. I’d struggled with my Hulk-like alter ego since my first two-year-old temper tantrum. But I was trying to change—to better embody the yoga principles I believed in.
My father’s voice echoed inside my head.
Don’t do it, Kate. Not today. You don’t want to create a scene today.
Three years after his death, Dad was still right. Today’s event was important to Michael—too important to risk ruining. Besides, I had vowed not to lose my temper anymore. If I’d learned anything on Orcas, it was that bad things sometimes happened when I got angry. Sometimes people got hurt.
I shuddered.
I couldn’t let myself think about that.
Instead, I took a deep breath, consciously relaxed my jaw, and forced my lips into a smile.
The Chihuahua’s owner thrust her empty cup in my face. “You owe me a new mocha.”
Honorable intentions be damned. I seriously wanted to punch her.
My only alternative was to retreat.
I tossed her a five-dollar bill, took three large steps back, and bumped into the teenager. “I’m sorry.” I turned right and tripped over the mastiff. “Excuse me.” I stumbled and “excused me’d” and “I’m so sorry’d” my way through the crowd, toward the water. I burst onto the path and bolted past the Green Lake Community Center to my new destination: a large, T-shaped wooden dock. The clamor faded to silence.
Empty. Thank goodness.
The scarred wooden dock was normally occupied by local fishermen, but for the moment, it was mine. The crowds, noise, and limited parking kept everyone but the dog walkers away from Green Lake today.
I stood at the dock’s southernmost end, as far away from the pandemonium as possible. For several long, lunacy-free moments, I found peace. I stared at the lake, smelled the crisp, clean scent of the water, and took slow, soothing breaths. Hypnotizing light jewels rippled off the lake’s surface. The boards underneath my feet gently swayed. My nervous system rebalanced, forcing my inner demon back into her lair.
When I finally felt ready, I touched my palms together in the prayer-like Anjali Mudra, bowed my head to reconnect with my center, and turned back toward the soccer fields.
If anything, they looked more chaotic. I couldn’t deal with all of those people. Not yet.
Perhaps a short visualization practice would help.
I sat cross-legged on a relatively goose-dung-free spot, closed my eyes, and touched my fingertips to the wood’s warm, rough surface. The sun melted my shoulders; a cool breeze pinked my cheeks.
I mentally transported myself to the beach near the soccer fields. Soft, white energy floated above the water and spilled over the lake’s borders. The fog-like mist expanded, filling the grassy area. It stilled the crowd, creating more space. In my mind’s eye, I reached out my hand. The field still wasn’t empty, but at least it was permeable. I could sift through the crowd, untouched. I took a deep breath, lifted my right foot and—
Angry whispers interrupted my meditation.
“No one asked for your opinion.”
I opened my eyes and turned toward the sound. Two quarreling women huddled near the shore, hidden behind a half-dozen bright yellow paddle boats. Their hushed voices carried across the water as clearly as if they were using a megaphone.
I considered ignoring them, and frankly, I should have. The Yoga Sutras might not explicitly condemn eavesdropping, but I was pretty sure it was considered bad karma. Still, I was curiously drawn to their conversation. Something about them felt oddly familiar …
I shaded my eyes from the sun and tried to make out their faces. Both women dressed completely in black: black long-sleeved T-shirts, deep black jeans, black tennis shoes. The only touches of color were the bright orange flames embroidered above each woman’s left breast.
The woman speaking was about my age—early to mid-thirties. She cradled a stack of picket signs in one arm and gesticulated wildly with the other. The sign on the top said “Apply the HEAT” in bold red letters. Her fingernails matched her deep black outfit, except for the middle fingernail of each hand, which was painted blood burgundy. Long, curly dark hair bounced off her shoulders with every emphatic shake of her head.
“You have to choose, Dharma. Either you’re one hundred percent on board, or you’re out. Which will it be?”
The second woman, obviously named Dharma, didn’t answer immediately. She was small—about my height and maybe five pounds heavier—and at least ten years older than her friend. She wore black, wire-rimmed glasses, and her gray-streaked brown hair was tied back from her shoulders in a single long braid. When she spoke, she sounded exasperated, as if she had repeated this argument many times before.
“You’ve clearly lost all perspective, Raven. This protest doesn’t make any sense. We have more important issues to deal with. Why don’t we go after factory farming? How about animal experimentation? Heck, I’d rather go back to Brazil and try to preserve what’s left of the rain forest. Why beat up innocent, sensible pet owners?”
“Innocent? What’s innocent about slavery? Do you have any idea how many of these so-called innocent slime bags abandon or euthanize their pets every year?”
Dharma leaned forward earnestly. “Which is precisely why we shouldn’t go after a low-kill shelter like this one.”
Go after a shelter? Were they planning to protest DogMa? Today? I kept listening, hoping that I’d misunderstood.
“Don’t be fooled by all of their pretty promises,” Raven scoffed. “These people are frauds, and I’m going to expose them.”
I couldn’t make out Dharma’s grumbled reply, but her tone didn’t sound friendly.
Raven held up her hands. “Back off, Dharma. I don’t need your help, but I won’t stand for your insolence. I’m taking this place down with or without you. Trust me; these hypocrites at DogMa are going to burn.” Her voice turned low and threatening. “And if you get in my way, I might have to fry you, too.”
Dharma flinched and glanced warily over her shoulder. “Watch what you say, Raven. Someone might take you seriously.”
Raven snorted. “Yeah, well, maybe they should.”
Dharma’s mouth opened, but she didn’t respond, at least not at first. After several long, tense moments, she shook her head, almost sadly. “I’m sorry, Raven, but this has gone far enough. Eduardo talked me into coming on this ill-conceived road trip, but we never agreed to violence. I’m out.” She turned and started walking away. “We both are.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about Eduardo.”
Dharma froze. Her entire body stiffened. When she slowly turned around, her expression was tight, as if her thinned lips and hardened eyes had been carved out of stone.
Raven’s lips lifted in a cruel-looking grin. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the paddleboats. “Sweetheart, you can leave any time. The sooner the better. I never wanted you here to begin with. But trust me, Eduardo’s not going anywhere. By the time I get done with him, he’ll be finished with you, too.”
The older woman exploded.
She howled and shoved Raven into the boats, using significantly more force than I would have expected from someone ideologically opposed to violence. Raven’s face hit the edge and she fell, splitting open her lower lip. Picket signs scattered in every direction.
Dharma scooped up a sign, snapped its wooden handle in two, and waved the jagged edges at her friend.
“I’m warning you, leave Eduardo alone, or you’ll be the one who burns.” She jabbed the wooden stake at Raven’s chest for emphasis. “In Hell.”
Raven’s response seemed more amused than frightened. She licked the blood from her lower lip, stood, and slowly clapped.
“Well done, Dharma. Well done. We’ll make an anarchist out of you yet.”
Dharma gaped at her hands, as if surprised to see them grasping a weapon. A strangled cry escaped from her throat. She took two large steps back, threw the broken sign to the ground, and stumbled away, sobbing. A moment later, she disappeared into the crowd.
Raven mumbled several words I couldn’t decipher, gathered the rest of the signs, and sauntered off in the opposite direction. I lost sight of her midway through the parking lot.
I stared after her, torn. Whatever Raven was up to, it couldn’t be good. Part of me wanted to stop her. But how, exactly, was I supposed to do that? Commandeer her picket signs? Tie her to a bicycle rack with my shoelaces? Yell the word “cat” and hope the dogs took care of the rest? I considered trying to find one of Green Lake’s bicycle patrol officers, but what could the police do? The fight was already over and picketing, though disruptive, wasn’t illegal.
A confident female voice called out over the loudspeaker. “Dog walkers, welcome to Paws Around Green Lake, DogMa’s first annual furry 5K fun walk. Pick up your leashes and gather your treat pouches. Let the walk begin!”
I glanced at my watch. Ten o’clock. I should have opened my booth an hour ago. The crowd’s human-canine duos trickled toward the trail and started jogging, walking, sniffing, and marking their way around the lake. If the two women I’d witnessed were planning to protest, they’d likely do it during the post-walk celebration. I still had plenty of time to find Michael and help him plan for the threat.
I hoped.

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Tracy Weber

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