Thursday, November 9, 2017

The New England Crime Bake

Edith here north of Boston, packing and checking items off her To-Bring list.

What am I packing for, you ask? Why, the New England Crime Bake, of course. 





Now in its 15th year, the "Bake" is co-sponsored by Sisters in Crime New England and Mystery Writers of America New England. As I am the current president of the SINC chapter, I am expected to be there. But I wouldn't miss it for anything. I started going in 2006, and have missed only one year since.

Unlike some of the big fan conferences -- think Bouchercon or Malice Domestic -- this one is a writers' conference. It offers master classes on the first day. Agent and editor pitch opportunities. Manuscript critiques. Forensics workshops. The audience is almost exclusively made up of published and aspiring crime fiction writers.

So we all come to learn, to network. But we have lots and lots of fun, too. There's usually a panel where the panelists make up mysteries on the spot. Friday night there's a pizza party. Our SINC chapter presents a game, which this year is Pin the Wound on the Corpse. All attendees get a bingo card at the beginning, and have to go around finding authors fitting the description to sign each square: Writes Three Series might be one. Former SINC National president might be another. MWA member from Vermont another. It's a great ice breaker. 


Sheriff Edith with cowgirls Shari Randall and Kim Gray.
The banquet always has a theme related to the guest of honor and attendees are encourage to dress up in appropriate costumes. When Craig Johnson of Longmire fame was guest of honor, for example, we all turned out in cowboy (or cowgirl) gear. The year Charlaine Harris was our honored guest, Saturday night was the Vampire Ball. You get the idea! This year the guest is Lisa Gardner, and the banquet theme is the Red Carpet, so the dress will be of the more conventional fancy awards-ceremony sort. As with every year, there will be dancing!

And then there's always the bar. For me by now, attending Crime Bake is like going back to summer camp and connecting with people you've missed all year. Next year and the year after I will be co-chair of the conference, sharing the duties with someone from the MWA chapter, so I expect my responsibilities might cut into my fun a bit. But that's okay - it's my turn to give back.

Readers: Are you going to Crime Bake or have you? Which annual conference do you attend where it's like going back to summer camp?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Creating Characters


by Linda O. Johnston

I love creating characters for my novels. 

Or do I create them?  Maybe they create me.

There is, after all, an element of me in all of them, or at least in my protagonists.  For example, Carrie Kennersly, from my Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, is a veterinary technician who buys a bakery from a friend and turns half into a barkery where she sells healthy dog treats that she created.


There appears to be very little of Carrie in me.  I'm not much of a cook, for one thing.  I've been fortunate enough to get most of the recipes in my books from friends.


But once upon a time I wanted to be a veterinarian, and Carrie as a vet tech has to do a lot of the things that her vet bosses do.  I realized that I wouldn't be able to deal with being around sick animals, even to help them.  And I especially couldn't handle cutting them open, even to save their lives.  So, I became a lawyer--and a writer. But I'm delighted that Carrie can deal with the bad as well as the good to take the best care of ill animals.


And believe it or not, there actually is a lot of Carrie in me--or me in Carrie.  We both love animals, especially dogs.  We both solve murders.  Of course I happen to create those murders in my stories for her to solve, but in a way we join forces to put together a mystery and incorporate it into a book that will hopefully be fun to read.


Plus, Carrie owns a dog, Biscuit.  Biscuit is always in her life.  And I am owned by a couple of dogs, Mystie and Cari.  They probably control my life more than Biscuit controls Carrie's, but that's fine with me.



Yes, there are other characters in the books who are important to the story.  There is possibly a touch of me in all of them--maybe even the murderers.  I'll have to consider that more and possibly write about that here sometime in the future.



www.LindaOJohnston.com

Monday, October 23, 2017

Will the Real Yoga Teacher Please Stand Up?



As a novelist, I’ve been blessed to meet many generous writers who have mentored me on the bumpy path to publication. Pretty much every seasoned writer I’ve met so far has given me one sage piece of advice: never read reviews.

I have to admit, I read them anyway.
Maybe it’s curiosity; maybe it’s excitement; maybe it’s simply my need to look for that ever-elusive stamp of approval, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I dig and I search and I devour every new review I can find. Most of the time, they make me smile. Occasionally, I learn something from a reader’s comments that will make me a better writer. Sometimes, however, a review leaves me shaking my head.
Some time ago, I came across one such review. I don’t remember now if the reader liked my book, or even which book she was reviewing. Something tells me it wasn’t her favorite. But one criticism stuck in my memory. She said that my protagonist wasn’t a realistic yoga teacher. If Kate were a real yoga teacher, the reader asserted, she’d be much thinner, more flexible, and less likely to lose her temper.
My protagonist is 5’3” tall and at the beginning of the series weighed 130 pounds, which is normal by most standards. Like many women, Kate has body image issues and hates her “chunky” thighs. All in all, she’s not a heck of a lot different than me, and she can do significantly more challenging yoga poses than I can. I’ve made my living teaching yoga for over seventeen years.
Yoga teachers (like yoga practitioners) come in all shapes and sizes. Some are lithe and can do amazing things with their bodies. Some are overweight. Some suffer from chronic illnesses and perpetually tight hamstrings. Some even start their yoga teaching career after retirement. The best yoga teachers know how to teach the students in front of them, in spite of their own personal limitations—or lack thereof. In fact, many great yoga teachers have imperfect bodies. If you can’t do a pose, learning how to observe your students and describe that pose becomes even more important.
Why do I care about this enough to write a blog article about it? The comment in the review highlights the very misperception of yoga that I’m trying to destroy: that yoga is only for the fit, the flexible, and the young. I have certified over three hundred teachers in the past fifteen years, and I have met privately to discuss Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training with at least three times that many. And yes, I've had teacher training students that smoke and most have known to have a drink on occasion.

My heart always breaks a little when an otherwise wonderful candidate decides not to pursue teaching yoga because they can’t do all of the poses, they don’t have a size-four body, or they think they are too old. The world loses a lot of great yoga teachers that way.
Is the protagonist in my book likely to grace the cover of Yoga Journal? Probably not. But perhaps it’s time we let go of the yoga stereotypes. If yoga teachers are more diverse, our students will be as well.
What do you think?

Tracy Weber’s author page
Kate's author buddy, Tracy Weber, on Facebook

Catch up on all four of the Downward Dog Mysteries.  Available at booksellers everywhere!
 
 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Real Life Research

Edith Maxwell here, reporting on some inadvertent research I did last week. And giving away a large-print version of CALLED TO JUSTICE!

So I write mysteries featuring a long-ago midwife. Turning the Tide releases next April. Native to Massachusetts, Rose Carroll catches babies, hears secrets, and solves crimes back in the late 1880s. I had a part-time gig as a childbirth educator and labor coach a couple of decades ago. Until last week, the last birth I'd attended in any role was over twenty years ago.

Thirty-two years ago my best friend gave birth to my goddaughter, and I was in the room helping as best I could when she was born at home with the help of independent midwives. Last weekend that goddaughter gave birth to her own first baby, and once again I was there in a supporting role. I was so honored and thrilled to have that circle come round again.

She chose to give birth in a free-standing birth center which is affiliated with the hospital across the street.

Birthing figures from the birth center's living room
Over and over again through out my goddaughter's forty-hour unmedicated labor - mostly at home until the very end - I thought of Rose Carroll. Even though working nurse-midwife (and mystery fan) Risa Rispoli vets all my midwifery scenes before I turn them in, I still wondered if I had been writing details correctly.

Here are a few things I'll be incorporating in my next Quaker Midwife mystery:
  • A woman in labor with her first child looks at her husband and says, "No more babies!"
  • During the first phase, the mom-to-be goes inward with each contraction, very quietly, very stoically.
  • Before active labor kicks in, her contractions slow overnight to every eight to ten minutes, and she snoozes in between.
  • After active labor start, with pains coming every three minutes and lasting two, the woman despairs, weeping and swearing, but persevering.
  • She throws off any hand or touch that she doesn't want.
  • She pushes on her hands and knees for almost two hours.
  • The midwife checks the heartbeat during pushing, and has to get the listening device in just the right position to hear the baby's heart.
  • The woman swears and grunts as she pushes, her whole body taking part.
  • The midwife uses oil and eases the head out slowly so the mom doesn't tear.
  • Once the head is out, the baby looks around and smacks its lips together, already alert.
  • The cord is a tough membrane and beautiful, silvery and translucent.
  • Instantly after birth the mom feels better and speaks softly to her child at the breast.
I'm sure there are more, but this experience - a miracle and an honor for me - really brought birthing alive again.

Readers: Any vivid birth memories you'd like to share?  Your own or that of others? One commenter will win a copy of Called to Justice (make sure I know your email address so I can find the winner).

Monday, October 2, 2017

Why Write Mysteries?


by Linda O. Johnston

The answer to that question, if posed to most mystery writers, will probably yield a lot of answers.


Because I love to read mysteries, is one of the primary ones, I suspect. 


Some others?


Because I love to stump others who read my work.


Because I enjoy creating smart, creative protagonists--and bad guys, too.


Because I enjoy belonging to organizations of mystery writers.


Because I have fun writing mysteries--and editing and even re-reading my own work.


Because I like my publisher.


Because it's a challenge, and I enjoy challenges.


Because I enjoy writing blog posts about mysteries.


Because... well, those of us who are active on this blog write mysteries for Midnight Ink, of course. Some of you might identify with what I've already said.  Others might have a lot more ideas of your own about what spurred you to start writing mysteries. 



But one that probably all will identify with?  Because it's who I am and what I love.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Yoga Teachers, Doulas, Labradoodle Puppies--and Murder?

by Tracy Weber

Note from Tracy:  Hi all!  Today I decided to let Kate Davidson (the protagonist of my most recent
mystery, A Fatal Twist) take center stage today.   I hope you enjoy the interview!

 
Tracy: I'm delighted to be here today speaking with Kate Davidson, the yoga teacher/sleuth of my Downward Dog Mystery series and the protagonist of my most recent book, A Fatal Twist. Kate, why don't you tell our readers about yourself?

Kate: Protagonist?  Sheesh, Tracy.  After the amount of time we’ve spent together over the past four mysteries, I’d like to think of us as friends!
 
For those of you who don’t know me, I'm a yoga teacher and the owner of Serenity Yoga in Seattle, Washington. I've lived in Seattle my entire life and am a Pacific Northwest girl through and through. I'm also my 100-pound German shepherd’s devoted slave. Chasing after murderers is simply an unwanted sideline.

Tracy: Let's talk about Bella. What's it like owning a hundred-pound special needs German shepherd?

Kate: You think I own Bella?  That’s funny! If anything, Bella owns me! I'd be lying if I didn't admit that living with Bella is challenging, especially since she doesn't like bearded men or other dogs. But Bella is the love of my life. She has changed my life, in every way for the better. I'd be lost without her.

Tracy: Tell the readers about your new career as a doula.


Kate: It’s not a career, at least I don’t think so.  How could I take care of Bella and run Serenity Yoga with such an unpredictable schedule?  But when Rene asked me to be the doula for the birth of her twins, I had to say yes. Rene is my touchstone. Being there when her babies are born will be such an honor.

So I signed up for doula training and recently attended a birth as part of it.  Miracle—the baby—was so gorgeous! The only downer that night was the fight I witnessed between one of the doctors and Miracle’s delivery nurse.  Then, a few days later when …
Well, I don’t want to give too much away.

Tracy:  Speaking of twins, I hear you have two new family members.

Kate: Shh!  Don’t say that!  I don’t want Michael to get any ideas.  We are fostering—not adopting, I swear!—two baby labradoodle puppies, Mutt and Jeff.  Their real names should be Terror and Destruction. I like the cute little fur-demons, but their stay at our house is only temporary. Michael talked me into fostering them until they’re old enough to go to a rescue.  Or until they destroy our last earthly possession, which might come first. Michael and I joke that if we ever find out who abandoned Mutt and Jeff, we’ll punish them by making them take the two monsters back.

Tracy: What about you and Michael? Any kids your future?

Kate: It’s funny you ask that.  I didn’t think so, at least not for a few years. But after going undercover with Tiffany at Reproductive Associates (the fertility clinic owned by Dr. Dick, the murder victim), I’m beginning to re-think that decision. Maybe Michael and I shouldn’t wait too much longer.  I’m thirty-four after all. As Tiffany would say, my ovaries have already started shriveling.

Tracy: How is it that you keep getting involved in murder investigations?

Kate: Honestly, I have no idea. I was raised by a cop, but Dad never shared much about his work with me. In fact, he tried to shield me from it. Yet this is the fourth murder investigation I’ve been involved with in a little over a year.  My mother, Dharma, says righting wrongs is my lifework—my destiny.  Maybe she’s right.

Tracy: Thanks for chatting with us today, Kate. I'd tell you to stay out of trouble, but we both know that will never happen. So I guess I'll just tell you to  have fun!

Kate: You too, Tracy. I'd like to put in a plug for you before I leave. I know how much you love connecting with readers. So if you're reading this post, you can keep in touch with Tracy by friending her on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/tracywe or sending her an email at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com. She'd love to hear from you!

Tracy Weber’s author page
Kate's author buddy, Tracy Weber, on Facebook

Catch up on all four of the Downward Dog Mysteries.  Available at booksellers everywhere!
 
 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Learning American History Through Fiction

Edith here, loving the still-fabulous tomatoes, juicy peaches, and sweet corn of a New England September.

I'm often studying history. I live in an antique house in a town full of history, and I use much of what I've learned about both in my Quaker Midwife Mysteries. So I got to thinking about my fellow historical mystery writers. Given the period I write in, I naturally gravitate to authors also writing about the second half of the nineteenth century, maybe squeezing into the first part of the twentieth.

Like who, you ask? Let's start with Nancy Herriman's Old San Francisco Mysteries. I love this series. A British-born nurse tends the poor and neglected in post Civil War San Francisco. Nancy's writing is vivid and chock-full of correct historical detail. No Pity for the Dead has Celia Davies bumping up against a ruthless real estate developer. Some things just never change! But along the way you feel what it was like to live in a rapidly developing San Francisco (one of my favorite cities, by the way). 



My fellow Macavity nominee (for the Ann Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Novel) Ann Parker writes the Silver Rush Mysteries. I love these books, set in the real boomtown of Leadville in 1880 Colorado. I didn't know anything about the Silver Rush, and Ann brings it all alive. The dust, the issues of a woman and an African-American owning a respectable bar, the complications of a woman wanting a divorce from her disappeared husband, and so much more.


Anna Loan-Wilsey's Hattie Davish series come along next, set in various places around the country in the 1890s. Her protagonist is an independent "typewriter" - which means she's a typist. Sometimes she works for the wealthy man who employs her, and sometimes she's on loan to a friend of his in places as far flung as Missouri, Rhode Island, Arkansas, and Illinois. Anna drops in atmosphere in each place so you feel like you are there. In her latest, A March to Remember, she's researching something for Sir Arthur in our nation's capital but instead gets swept up in the worker's rights as well as the women's rights movement. The movements were real, as were some of the characters.

Alyssa Maxwell (no relation) pops up next in the chronology, with her wonderful Gilded Age mysteries set in Newport, Rhode Island in 1895 and thereabouts. While I used to live in Newport Beach, California, I didn't know much about the eastern version except for the row of big mansions (which I still haven't seen in person yet). Emma Cross is a less-than-well-off relation to the Vanderbilts, and a reporter. I love where she takes me in and around Newport, and what I've learned of the lifestyles of regular people as well as the rich and famous.


Jessica Estevao's (aka Jessie Crockett) Change of Fortune series starts at the very end of
the 1890s and is set in scenic Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where I happen to know that Jessie owns a summer home. Her latest book, out in two weeks, is Whispers of Warning. Her series protagonist Ruby Proulx, was raised by a con artist but escaped the itinerant life to live with her aunt, Honoria, who runs a hotel for spiritualists. Ruby herself is psychic in that she appears to hears voices from beyond. I love how Jessie captures the end-of-the-century feeling of Old Orchard with all the senses alive.

One of my inspirations for writing the Quaker Midwife Mysteries has been Victoria Thompson. Her Gaslight Mysteries begin in 1899 in New York City featuring an upper class midwife. I knew basically nothing about the city at that time, and now I can traverse it in its modern reincarnation and recognize names and landmarks. 

Vicki also has a new historical mystery series debuting this fall with City of Lies. I read her short story featuring the characters and was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of City of Lies. Elizabeth Miles, the protagonist, and her father are scam artists but of the Robin Hood sort. You're going to love it! The series starts in 1917 and is mostly set also in New York.

And my little run through a portion of American history wouldn't be complete without mentioning Rhys Bowen and her Molly Murphy series, which begins in 1901 and also takes place in New York City. I have followed Irish Molly all the way from her beginnings to the latest book, Time of Fog and Fire, which takes place only five years later in book time but fifteen years later in author time. As with Vicki's Gaslight books, Rhys takes you all over the city and through all layers of society, too.



Okay, readers, who did I forget? (Apologies ahead of time!) Favorites among this list? Extra points if you've read at least one book by each author. What have you learned from reading historical fiction? And I'll send a large-print copy of Called to Justice to one commenter here today - but be sure you include your email address. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Publishing, Promoting and Enjoying


by Linda O. Johnston

 

Dogs. 

I wrote about them here last month, and other times, as being part of my research, part of my life, my writing theme.  And Midnight Ink really helped me celebrate National Dog Day last week, on August 26.  They held a contest on their Facebook site where the prize was the first three books in my Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries.  Those who entered all had to comment about their favorite dog.


Did I ever have fun reading the entries!  Of course, I always enjoy reading about dogs, as well as writing about them.  And seeing how others have incorporated dogs into their lives, into their families... always a pleasure!


Plus, it's always enjoyable to see how something so important to what I write can also be used to help publicize my stories.  I was able to share the contest info on social media, including several Facebook groups I belong to that spotlight cozy mysteries.  And since there was a contest, possibly some people who weren't previously aware of my stories focused on them and, hopefully, decided to check them out even if they weren't the winner.


I always get a kick out of letting the world know about my books!  And I always get a kick out of writing them, too.  Plus, I have lots and lots of fun researching and writing about dogs.


So, hey, world.  There've been three Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries so far: BITE THE BISCUIT, TO CATCH A TREAT and BAD TO THE BONE.  Get the theme here?


And the next one, PICK AND CHEWS, will be released in May 2018.  I look forward to letting the world know even more about that one!